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Walking faster could lower heart disease risk

October 11, 2012

When it comes to healthy aging, most people recognize that staying physically active is one of the most beneficial things seniors can do. However, results of a new study suggest that older adults may want to pick up the pace on their walk around the block to reap as many benefits as possible.

The research, out of Denmark's Bispebjerg University Hospital, followed more than 10,000 Danish citizens between the ages of 21 and 98 and looked for signs of metabolic syndrome, a combination of factors such as high blood pressure and obesity, which is associated with heart disease and stroke. After evaluating their health, the team analyzed the participants' progress for 10 years.

Scientists found that while any bit of physical activity lowered the risk of metabolic syndrome, the benefits were much greater in people who upped the intensity of their walk or jog. For instance, fast walking cut the risk of the syndrome in half, while jogging lowered it by about 40 percent. Interestingly, the length of time a person walked had no noticeable impact.

"Our results confirm the role of physical activity in reducing [metabolic syndrome] risk and suggest that intensity rather than volume of physical activity is important," the researchers wrote in the British Medical Journal.

Though the findings suggest intensity levels are tied to a decreased risk of stroke and heart disease, any amount of exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors. In fact, research has suggested that even a moderate amount of walking could stave off the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

A 2010 study from the University of Pittsburgh found that walking as little as five miles a week could slow cognitive decline in patients with mild cognitive impairment, while six miles a week could benefit Alzheimer's patients.