The study, based on data from 9,611 older adults, shows that those who were regularly active in their 50s and early 60s were about 35 percent less likely to die in the next eight years than those who were sedentary. For those who had a high heart risk because of several underlying conditions, the reduction was 45 percent.
And the adults in the study didn't have to run marathons to get the death-reducing benefit: The reduction was seen even among those who walked, gardened, or went dancing a few times a week, as well as those who pursued more vigorous activities. Even those who were obese had a lower risk of dying if they were regularly active.
The results, published in the November issue of the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, are from a study by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School and the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System. It used data from the Health and Retirement study conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research.
The findings suggest that efforts to get middle-aged people to exercise should pay special attention to those who have risk factors for cardiovascular disease or a history of heart attack or stroke.
It's the first prospective, nationally representative study to show that cardiovascular risk doesn't lessen exercise's impact on mortality risk. But it did confirm that those who have a high heart risk are much more likely to be sedentary, perhaps out of fear that exercising could overtax them.
"Other studies in smaller or less representative groups have shown the long-term benefits of exercise, even light exercise, but this study allowed us to look across different population groups, and different levels of cardiovasc
Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System