Half an hour of gardening ‘can cut the risk of a heart attack’


Pensioners who spend just half an hour a day gardening, fishing or walking can reduce their risk of a fatal heart attack by more than half, a major study has found.


The Telegraph reports that the study into 2,456 men and women, aged between 65 and 74, found that those with an active retirement had far lower death rates.

Until now, much of the evidence about the benefits of exercise in protecting the heart has come from studies into those who are young or middle-aged. But the new study, presented yesterday at the world’s largest cardiac conference, suggested dramatic changes could be achieved later in life. Researchers compared three groups of pensioners, depending on whether they reported low, medium or high levels of activity.

Participants were classed as having low levels of activity if they did less than four hours physical activity each week. They were compared with a group who were moderately active – taking light forms of exercise such as gardening, fishing, walking or cycling – for at least four hours weekly. They were also tracked against a third group of high intensity exercisers – those who did running, swimming, ball games or were involved in intense sports competitions for at least three hours a week.

Overall, moderate physical activity for at least hour hours a week was associated with a 54 per cent reduction in deaths from heart conditions, with a 31 per cent drop in acute events such as heart attacks and strokes. Those in the group who did even more vigorous activity did still better, with a 66 per cent reduction in heart deaths and a 45 per cent drop in acute events. Every year, 82,000 people suffer a heart attack in England.

Speaking at the annual European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress in Rome, Riitta Antikainen, professor of geriatrics at the University of Oulu, Finland, said: “Relatively little is known about the effect of regular physical activity on cardiovascular disease risk in older people.

“Our study provides evidence that older adults who are physically active have a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. “The protective effect of leisure time physical activity is dose dependent – in other words, the more you do, the better. Activity  is protective even if you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol.”

The 12-year study involved men and women who were enrolled into the National FINRISK Study between 1997 and 2007. The research adjusted for other cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol as well as social factors, including marital status and education levels.

Researchers also took steps to minimise the risk of “reverse causality”, where worse health was actually the reason for lower activity levels. As a result, patients  with coronary heart disease, heart failure, cancer, or prior stroke at the start of the trial were excluded from the analysis.

Professor Antikainen urged pensioners to boost their exercise levels. She said: “Physical exercise may become more challenging with ageing. However, it is important for older people to still get enough safe physical activity to stay healthy after their transition to retirement.” Professor Joep Perk, cardiologist and spokesman for the ESC, said: “The message is start moving after retirement – it’s never too late.”

Emily Reeve, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study highlights the importance of physical activity at any age, including the elderly. “In order to keep their heart healthy and  improve general health, older adults need to keep active and still aim to achieve a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic activity every week. “For some people, 150 minutes might seem like a lot, but this can be broken down into 10-minute sessions throughout the day that will easily build up.”

She also said elderly people should try to break up long periods of sitting, with light activities. “We know that sedentary behaviour is now considered an independent risk factor for ill health,” she said.

Last year, the charity revealed that UK adults were three times more likely to be inactive compared to those in the Netherlands. Official data shows that walking levels in Britain have fallen by more than a third in three decades, with the average person walking for less than 10 minutes a day. At the start of the study, participants were asked to provide information about their activity levels and other lifestyle habits and measurements of blood pressure, weight, height and cholesterol were taken.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director for Age UK, said: “There is a really strong body of research that demonstrates the importance of physical activity in later life. “Even small amounts of physical activity can make a difference to a person’s health and can lower the risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, strokes and certain cancers. “Not only does exercise add years onto our lives, it can improve your mood and help maintain independence. “The important thing to remember is that it’s never too late to start, even increasing your daily physical activity by a small amount will benefit you at any age.”

(Article source: The Telegraph)

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