Physical activity can lower CVD risk in seniors

New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests light and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, coupled with less sedentary time, is associated with more favorable levels of heart and vessel disease markers in older individuals. 

The researchers, led by first author Ahmed Elhakeem, PhD, of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, examined the association of physical activity and sedentary time with cardiovascular disease (CVD) biomarkers for a cohort consisting of British men and women ages 60 to 64.

“The 60 to 64 age range represents an important transition between work and retirement, when lifestyle behaviors tend to change,” Elhakeem said in a prepared statement issued by the American Heart Association. “It may, therefore, be an opportunity to promote increased physical activity. In addition, cardiovascular disease risk is higher in older adults. It’s important to understand how activity might influence risk in this age group. We found it’s important to replace time spent sedentary with any intensity level of activity.”

The study cohort consisted of 1,622 men and women between 60 to 64 years old. The researchers combined heart rate and movement sensors worn for five consecutive days to determine the overall time for physical activity (both light and moderate-to-vigorous) and sedentary time. Light physical activity was defined as slow walking, stretching, golfing and gardening, and moderate-to-vigorous activity was defined as brisk walking, bicycling, dancing, tennis, lawn mowing or vacuuming.  

They specifically analyzed individuals’ blood levels for markers of CVD—inflammatory markers C-reactive protein and interleukin 6 (IL-6); endothelial markers, tissue-plasminogen activator (t-PA), the molecule E-Selectin; and cholesterol markers leptin and adiponectin. Upon analysis, the researchers found:

  • Each additional 10 minutes spent in moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity was associated with leptin levels that were 3.7 percent lower in men and 6.6 percent lower in women.
  • Each additional 10 minutes spent sedentary was associated with 0.6 percent higher IL-6 levels in men and 1.4 percent higher in women.
  • Each additional 10-minutes spent in light intensity activity was associated with around 0.8 percent lower t-PA levels in both men and women.
  • Less sedentary time and greater time in low-intensity activity were beneficially related to IL-6 and t-PA, regardless of time spent at higher intensity activity.
  • E-selectin was the only biomarker which showed no notable associations with physical activity and sedentary time (but was related to fitness levels).
  • The researchers also found that individuals in the cohort with better cardiorespiratory fitness had a healthier biomarker profile.

“Our findings are important as they show that greater time spent in light physical activity in early old age, which makes up much of the time spent in physical activity by older adults, is associated with a better CVD biomarker profile,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers noted stronger associations in women, which suggest gender differences in response to physical activity and sedentary time.

“As sedentary time and light physical activity were both related to inflammatory and endothelial markers and adipokines independently of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, our findings suggest that it is important for sedentary and inactive older adults to be supported to replace time spent sedentary with any intensity of physical activity,” the researchers wrote.