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Exercise begun after 40 can reduce heart disease
Last Updated: 2006-07-18 13:01:32 -0400 (Reuters Health)
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - It's never too late to start exercising - former "couch potatoes" who begin to exercise vigorously after the age of 40 can reduce their risk of heart disease by half compared with their peers who remain sedentary, new study findings show.
Dr. Dietrich Rothenbacher of the University of Heidelberg in Germany and colleagues re-analyzed data from a study of coronary heart disease that included 312 heart disease patients between 40 to 68 years old who were matched by age and sex to 479 healthy people.
Study participants were asked about their patterns of physical activity since age 20. Those who reported being somewhat or very active throughout their adulthood had a 62-percent lower risk of heart disease compared to people who had not exercised in adulthood at all.
However, people who said they were sedentary from age 20 to 39 but took up exercising at age 40 or later cut their heart disease risk by 55 percent. Risk reduction was greatest, the researchers found, among those who became very active.
These later-life athletes actually fared better than people who were active in their twenties and thirties but took to the couch after 40, who showed a 35 percent lower risk of heart disease than people who were completely sedentary, according to the report, published in the current issue of the medical journal Heart.
"These results suggest that keeping up a physically active lifestyle in adulthood may be beneficial for preventing coronary heart disease later in life," the researchers write. "Furthermore, these data provide evidence that changing from a sedentary to an active physical activity pattern, even if initiated at an older age, may result in a strong reduction of coronary heart disease risk."
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Goya Wannamethee of the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London notes that while the findings would seem to suggest that only people who became very active after their 40s benefited, the level of exercise needed to promote heart health varies by sex, age and fitness level.
There is considerable evidence that moderate exercise may be enough for individuals who are less fit, she adds.
But benefits are strongest for people who start out being active and stick with it throughout life, Wannamethee notes. "Thus encouraging participation in physical activity should start early. But for those who have been inactive for most of their adulthood," she agrees "it is never too late to start."
SOURCE: Heart 2006, July 18, 2006.