November 28th, 2012 at 10:10 am
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Elders’ heart health and exercise: What’s the connection?

by Dorian Martin

So how important is exercise for elders? Studies make a connection between physical activity and heart health in seniors. A new study out of the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine found that older adults who regularly get moderate physical activity are less likely to have biological indicators of heart failure. And it doesn’t require seniors to run half-marathons — the benefits can come from typical exercise like walking five times a week for 30 minutes.

Scientists found that participants with the highest increase in biomarker concentrations were the least physically active, and those with the highest activity scores had the lowest long-term risk for heart failure. “This relationship between exercise and protection against heart injury was quite dramatic,” Dr. Christopher deFillippi, the study’s lead author, told HealthDay. “We were surprised at the extent of the association. And we also found that the benefit really starts right away.”

This three-year study involved 2,933 participants who were part of the Cardiovascular Health Study and who were at least 65 years old. Scientists tested the participants’ blood for two critical biomarkers that are linked with the risk of heart failure. The researchers also used the participants’ self-reported logs of physical activity as well as their walking pace to develop a composite score.

Taking action to be more active

So what’s the best way to encourage an elder to exercise regularly? The National Institute on Aging has created the Go4Life program, with a guide that helps elders fit exercise and physical activity into their daily life. The website reinforces the importance of motivating seniors to start being physically active or return to exercise routines if they’ve taken a break. It’s also essential to build more physical activity into regular routines.

The Go4Life program explains that one particular type of exercise is usually not sufficient — mixing up various kinds of exercise can offer more benefits and also help reduce boredom and the risk of injury. Recommended activities include:

  1. Balance exercises (standing on one foot, heel-to-toe walking, Tai Chi)
  2. Endurance exercises (brisk walking or jogging, yard work, dancing, swimming, biking, climbing stairs or hills, playing tennis or playing basketball)
  3. Flexibility exercises (shoulder and upper arm stretch, calf stretch and yoga)
  4. Strength exercises (lifting weights, using a resistance band)

Before starting an exercise routine or substantially increasing the amount of activity, elders should talk to their health care providers. Seniors should ask about activities to avoid as well as modifications of exercises for their specific physical condition. You can read more about the benefits of physical activity in another blog post, 3 ways elders can aim for longer lives.

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