I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that older adults should engage in moderate physical activity to help maintain their health. But you may be surprised that until recently, there was actually very little scientific evidence backing up this claim.
Researchers at Tufts University decided to investigate whether moderate activity was indeed beneficial to people in their 70s and older. Fortunately, their results confirmed what we've suspected all along. Exercise is not just beneficial for this population, it can have tremendous protective effects.
For this study, the researchers investigated the activities of a group of 4,207 adults with a mean age of 73 at the study's start over the course of 10 years. They evaluated their physical activity at regular intervals and found some significant differences in health depending on how active the participants were. In particular, walking quickly often seemed to have the most benefits. Participants who walked at a pace greater than three miles per hour had a 50% lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), a 53% lower risk of stroke, and a 50% lower overall risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared with those whose pace was less than 2 mph.
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Distance mattered as well. Those who averaged seven blocks a day enjoyed a 36% lower risk of CHD, a 54% lower risk of stroke, and a 47% lower risk of total CVD than those who didn't go more than five blocks in a week. Other activities such as doing yard work, swimming, biking, or hiking also lowered risk of CHD, stroke, and total CVD in the participants. Both men and women experienced similar benefits, and the benefits were also similar across the age range.
This study provides good evidence of just how important it is to stay active no matter how old you are. If you're in your 70s, that doesn't mean you have to start giving up activities you once enjoyed. Continuing to garden, bike, or even window shop can help keep you healthy for years to come.
If you haven't been active for some time, make sure you talk to your doctor about an appropriate plan for you. And if you're already on a plan, consider dialing up the intensity just a bit. If you usually go six blocks, try for seven. If your pace is around 2.5 mph, try bumping it up until you can maintain a 3 mph pace. All of these small changes can have a big impact on your health. By the way, seven blocks isn't very far. The average block is 750 feet. So walking seven blocks is only about one mile.
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