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Study: Get fit later in life to reduce heart failure risk

May 21, 2013

Exercising and healthy aging go hand in hand, but all too often seniors who aren't physically fit believe it's too late for them to reap the benefits of an active lifestyle. However, new research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center suggests there is still much to be gained from getting in shape later in life. The study, which was based on an analysis of more than 9,000 people, found that people who commit to getting fit enjoy a considerably lower heart failure risk than those who live a more sedentary lifestyle.

Substantial improvement
Funded by the American Heart Association, the study relied on a treadmill test to measure the fitness levels of the study participants. Specifically, researchers were interested in tracking the subjects' metabolic equivalents (METs). The team assessed the participants' performance on the treadmill test at the beginning of the study and then once again eight years later, and those who improved also enjoyed a lower heart failure risk. In fact, researchers determined that for each MET improvement, participants lowered their risk of heart failure by about 20 percent. 

"Improving fitness is a good heart failure prevention strategy - along with controlling blood pressure and improving diet and lifestyle - that could be employed in mid-life to decrease the risk of heart failure in later years," said researcher Dr. Ambarish Pandey. 

A serious concern
Heart failure is one of the most significant threats to senior health. An estimated 5.1 million Americans are living with heart failure, and experts anticipate that figure could increase by about 25 percent by 2030. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes heart failure is responsible for the deaths of 55,000 people each year. While the statistics are certainly troubling, these recent findings highlight the fact that older adults can be proactive about their health.

More than just cardio
When it comes to getting fit, seniors need to focus on more than just going for a walk several days a week, notes the National Institutes of Health. Through its Go4Life campaign, the organization encourages older adults to add variety to their routine by including four types of exercise - endurance, strength building, balance and flexibility activities. Aside from lowering the risk of heart failure, a well-rounded approach will help reduce falls.