Increasing the physical activity levels in the elderly appears to be as good for health as quitting smoking, the Oslo II study demonstrated.
Analysis of the study participant data showed that under an hour each week of light physical activity was not associated with any meaningful reduction in risk of death from any cause.
Getting than an hour of physical activity regardless of intensity was linked to a 32% to 56% lower risk of cardiovascular death or death from any other causes.
Less than an hour of vigorous physical activity, on the other hand, was linked to a reduction in risk of between 23% and 37% for cardiovascular disease and death from any cause.
The more time spent doing vigorous exercise the lower the risk seemed to be, falling by 36% to 49%.
Factoring in that the risk of death from heart disease/stroke rises with age, made only a slight difference to the results.
Men who regularly engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity during their leisure time lived five years longer, on average, than those who were classified as sedentary.
The researchers base their findings on people taking part in the Oslo Study, which invited almost 26,000 men born between 1923 and 1932 for a health check in 1972-73 (Oslo I).
In total 15,000 men participated in this long-term longitude study. Study participants had their height, weight, cholesterol and blood pressure checked, and they were asked whether they smoked.
They were also asked to respond to a validated survey on their weekly leisure time physical activity levels.
Physical activity levels were categorized by:
• Sedentary (watching TV/reading);
• Light (walking or cycling, including to and from work for at least 4 hours a week);
• Moderate (formal exercise, sporting activities, heavy gardening for at least 4 hours a week);
• Vigorous (hard training or competitive sports several times a week).
Some 6,000 of the surviving men repeated the process in 2000 (Oslo II) and were monitored for almost 12 years to see if physical activity level over time was associated with a lowered risk of death from cardiovascular disease, or any cause, and if its impact were equivalent to quitting smoking.
During the monitoring period, 2,154 out of the 5,738 men who had participated in both health checks died.
Overall, these study demonstrated that 30 minutes of physical activity-of light or vigorous intensity-6 days a week was associated with a 40% lower risk of death from any cause.
As an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the researchers point out that only the healthiest participants in the first wave of the study took part in the second wave, which may have lowered overall absolute risk of death.
But the differences in risk of death between those who were inactive and active were remarkable, even at the age of 73, they suggest.
The study clearly shows that more effort should go into encouraging elderly men to be physically active, with medical professionals stressing the wide range of ill health that could be warded off as a result, conclude the researchers.
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