Don’t feel guilty if you can’t find the time or enthusiasm for a vigorous jog or gym workout. You can still avoid heart disease by engaging in your favourite leisure activity for two and a half hours a week according to a new study on middle aged health. The research has found that health amongst those approaching their 50s can be greatly improved by simply engaging in your favourite leisure activities or household tasks ranging from brisk walking to DIY. Middle-aged adults who regularly engage in leisure-time physical activity for more than a decade may enhance their heart health, according to new research.
In the new study, more than 4,200 participants (average age 49) reported the duration and frequency of their physical activities outside of work, such as brisk walking, vigorous gardening, cycling, sports, housework and home maintenance.
“It’s not just vigorous exercise and sports that are important,” said Mark Hamer, Ph.D., study lead author and associate professor of epidemiology and public health at University College in London, U.K. “These leisure-time activities represent moderate intensity exercise that is important to health. It is especially important for older people to be physically active because it contributes to successful ageing.”
The participants were part of the ongoing Whitehall II study, which included more than 10,000 British civil service participants in 1985 to investigate social and occupational influences on cardiovascular risk. At the first stage of the study in1991-1993, baseline assessment researchers analysed two key inflammatory markers, C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Researchers again assessed physical activity and inflammatory markers in 1997-99 and about 11 years later.
Physically active participants at baseline had lower CRP and IL6 levels. The difference remained stable over time compared to participants that rarely adhered to physical activity guidelines during 10-year follow-up.
“Inflammatory markers are important because we have shown they are a key mechanism explaining the link between physical activity and the lower risk of heart disease.” Hamer said. “The people who benefited the most from this study were the ones that remained physically active.” The study also uncovered an interesting and unexpected finding during the later stages of the research. At the start of the study, overall, 49.1 percent of the participants met the standard physical activity recommendations for cardiovascular health (2.5 hours per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity). About half of participants engaged in moderate to vigorous activity for the recommended 2.5 hours per week for heart health. However, the rate soared to 83 percent in later phases of the study.
“The percentage of exercising participants jumped quite a bit because they were entering their retirement during the last phase of the study,” Hamer explained. “We have shown that retirement seems to have a beneficial effect on physical activity levels.”
Even if you’re a confirmed couch potato, the results of the study should encourage you to get up and move around more. People who shifted from an inactive to active lifestyle had lower inflammatory markers at their follow-up. “We should be encouraging more people to get active – for example, walking instead of taking the bus. You can gain health benefits from moderate activity at any time in your life,” Dr Mark Hamer said.
So there’s no excuse to put off that long walk you promised yourself. And the garden probably needs weeding…
The findings were published in the journal Circulation.