Older people benefit more from activity than those who are younger and reduce chance of heart failure by a fifth

  • Those who start exercising in their 60s and 70s will see a marked improvement 
  • 20 minutes a day can reduce a 60-year-old’s risk of heart failure by a fifth
  • Short spells of light exercise more beneficial than long and vigorous ones
  • Research showed exercise late in life is more important than earlier health

If you’ve spent a lifetime avoiding exercise, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s too late to start now.

Not so, say researchers. They claim that those who don’t start exercising until their 60s will still see a marked improvement in their health.

In fact, they say older people benefit more from recent activity than from exercise they did when they were young. Walking or cycling for just 20 minutes a day can reduce a 60-year-old man’s risk of heart failure by a fifth, their study found.

Short spells of light exercise were actually more beneficial than long periods of vigorous activity.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that it is never too late to start exercising. The team, from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, monitored the progress of 33,000 Swedish men from 1998 to 2012.

The men, who had an average age of 60, filled out a questionnaire asking them about their exercise in the previous months. They also recalled how active they were at the age of 30.

The research showed recent active behaviour had a bigger impact on heart failure risk than activity earlier in life. Men who had regularly exercised in their 30s, but were inactive at 60, were no less likely to endure heart failure than anyone else.

Those who had been inactive at 30, but exercised late in life, fared far better. Walking or cycling for 20 minutes a day was associated with the biggest reduction in the risk of heart failure, which fell by 21 per cent.

The authors found that those men who did the least exercise were at a 47 per cent higher risk of heart failure than average 60-year-olds.

But those who did the most exercise were even more likely to have problems, with a 51 per cent higher heart failure risk. The authors wrote: ‘Some studies have suggested heavy physical exercise, such as intense long-distance running, is associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes.’

It is never too late to see the benefits of taking up physical exercise

Study leader Andrea Bellavia said: ‘We found that recent activity may be more important for heart failure protection than past physical activity levels.’ Professor Naveed Sattar of Glasgow University said: ‘It is never too late to see the benefits of taking up physical exercise. But the best thing is to be active all your life. If you can find something you enjoy, and stick at it, you will see the most benefit.

‘For people who are sedentary, the best bang for their buck is to become moderately active. If they try to become super active, there is evidence of increased risk of heart failure.’

Experts said that the study raised important questions about whether it is possible to do too much exercise.

In a separate editorial article, published in the same journal, Dr Steven Keteyian and Dr Clinton Brawner of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit wrote: ‘We still know relatively little about how variations in physical activity and exercise “dose” might impact disease onset.’

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