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Encourage over-60s to walk 10 minutes a day for heart health

Encourage over-60s to walk 10 minutes a day for heart health
15th August 2018

Exercising for health is a good idea at any age, but new evidence suggests that just ten minutes of brisk walking a day can have a big impact on the over-60s. Scientists at the University of Bristol found that such activity can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Many of the cardiovascular risk factors, such as cholesterol, inflammation and blood clots, were decreased by the bursts of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. These were measured by biomarkers in the blood.

Interestingly, the benefit was more pronounced in women, whose risk was affected twice as much as men. Both sexes can improve their outlook through exercise, however, and this latest research shows that even a fairly small amount of regular movement can make all the difference.

Heart disease is the biggest killer in the world and improving the function of blood vessels is a proactive measure everyone can take to help protect themselves against it. As we age, it can be tempting to slow down, but anyone with elderly relatives should be encouraging them to exercise, even if just a little.

More than 1,600 individuals aged between 60 and 64 wore heart rate monitors and movement sensors over a five-day period for the study. They revealed the extent to which each participant did light to strenuous exercise, ranging from slow walking and gardening to dancing and picking up the pace on strolls.

Along the way, the seniors’ biomarkers were analysed and the impact on blood vessel function, cholesterol and inflammation recorded. Levels of C-reactive protein rise when inflammation is present in the body and interleukin 6 (IL-6) appears at the source.

To measure blood vessel function, the tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA), which breaks down blood clots and E-selectin, a molecule that binds to cells during inflammation, were detected. Cholesterol levels were tracked through a hormone that regulates eating called leptin and adiponectin to keep glucose levels right and break down fatty acid.

Dr Ahmed Elhakeem a senior research associate at the University of Bristol, said: “We focused on these biomarkers as they are less studied and have been shown to predict risk of cardiovascular events and death.”

What was found was that for men, every ten minutes spent doing exercise equated to a 3.7 per cent reduction in leptin levels. Their t-PA also decreased by 0.8 per cent, while no activity saw their IL-6 markers go up by 0.6 per cent.

In women, leptin was 6.6 per cent lower for ten minutes of slow walking and t-PA levels again reduced by 0.8 per cent. On average, IL-6 was 1.4 per cent higher after ten minutes without exercise.

Dr Elhakeem added: “The 60 to 64 age range represents an important transition between work and retirement, when lifestyle behaviors tend to change. 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.”