We all know we don’t stay young forever, but staying fit can be even more important as we age. According to Australian researchers, for those who live a sedentary lifestyle who are also over 30 years of age, changing that habit can mean life or death.
Cardiovascular disease risk among women of all ages in Australia is increased with smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity – no surprise there. But the single biggest contributor to heart disease for all but the youngest women in the study was inactivity. If women over 30 simply increased their physical activity, the largest number of cardiovascular deaths could be averted.
Wendy Brown, an exercise physiologist at the University of Queensland and the lead researcher on the study said:
“Understanding the risks associated with the development of serious health problems can inform more targeted intervention strategies.”
Similar statistics prevail in the U.S., with heart disease being a leading killer of women who live sedentary lifestyles. An estimated 1 in 4 women die of this disease. Statistics are similar in Australian women.
For the research, data was analyzed from a long-term study that examined the lifestyle habits of Australian women from 1996 to 2011. Their health was assessed every three years, and they were asked questions about their levels of activity along with other health questions. There were 30,000 participants in the study ranging in age from 22 to 90 years old.
Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measure of weight relative to height – physical inactivity, high blood pressure and smoking were the main indicators followed.
Overall, being sedentary was the greatest contributor to heart disease among women over age 30, including women as old as 90. The only lifestyle choice that came close to being as damaging was smoking, and it only affected the women between the ages of 22 and 27 as significantly as lacking proper exercise in their lives.
High blood pressure was least common among the youngest women, and high BMI (overweight or obese) was most common in the middle age group.
Inactivity was widespread, with 65% of women 73 to 78 years old and 81% of those 85 to 90 getting little or no physical activity.
“Conclusions From about age 30, the population risk of heart disease attributable to inactivity outweighs that of other risk factors, including high BMI. Programmes for the promotion and maintenance of physical activity deserve to be a much higher public health priority for women than they are now, across the adult lifespan.”
Though not involved in the study, but an expert in the field, Nisha Parikh, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco said:
“Physical activity hasn’t been studied as well; the other risk factors (like body mass index) have been more targeted in the past.”
It would make sense, though, that increasing physical activity would lower BMI while improving overall health, so it should come as no surprise that a good exercise regime can indeed save a life.