Adults in their early 60s who spend less time sitting around and get more exercise – even just a little gardening or a leisurely evening stroll – have better markers for heart disease risk than their sedentary peers, a UK study suggests.
Researchers asked 1,622 adults ranging in age from 60 to 64 years old to wear movement and heart rate monitors for five days. These sensors detected how much time people spent sedentary and also how much of participants’ active time involved light activities like walking or gardening versus moderate-to-vigorous workouts like cycling or dancing.
Researchers also tested participants’ blood for levels of certain biomarkers that can help predict the risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries that can cause heart attacks and strokes. Biomarkers in the blood indicating elevated levels of inflammation, cholesterol and clotting can be an early warning of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
“We found that increased sedentary time was associated with worse levels of these biomarkers whereas increased time spent in any intensity of activity (including both light and higher intensity activity) was associated with better levels,” said lead study author Ahmed Elhakeem of the University of Bristol.
Overall, half of the study participants spent at least 18 hours a day either asleep or sedentary, researchers report in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Women spent a bit more time engaged in light physical activity, and men spent slightly longer doing vigorous exercise.
Half of the women spent at least 5.4 hours doing low-intensity activities, compared with 5.2 hours for the men. Half of the men spent at least 0.7 hours doing moderate-to-vigorous exercise, compared to 0.4 hours for the women.
For men, each additional 10 minutes of sedentary time was associated with 0.6 percent higher levels of interleukin 6 (IL-6), a protein in the blood that can indicate inflammation. Every extra 10 minutes women spent sedentary was associated with 1.4 percent higher IL-6 levels.
The study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how exercise levels might directly influence biomarkers of heart disease.
To improve overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (or a combination of the two) and muscle-strengthening exercises two or more days a week.
For the most benefit, however, people need to get active and stay active, said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
“You can’t bank your past physical activity,” Goldberg, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “Physical activity lowers heart disease risk while you are actively participating in the physical activity.”