OCT 19, 2016 8:50 PM PDT

Cardiovascular Health Vs. Sedentary Lifestyles

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
The health benefits behind being physically fit are just as important for elderly individuals as they are for young people. A new study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology showed that being physically fit countered some of the risks imposed by long hours of sedentary behavior exhibited by older adults.
It's always important to stay fit, but even more so when you are older -- especially to avoid an increased risk of cardiovascular and lifestyle diseases that is linked to being sedentary. Credit: Erlend Lånke Solbu, NRK
There’s little scientific argument against the notion that a sedentary lifestyle increases an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Some studies even estimate that largely sedentary lifestyles kill as many people as smoking. Regardless, it’s probably safe to say that both are equally important risk factors for heart problems, and the time the average American spends sitting every day only increases with age.

In their study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Norwegian University scientists divided a trial population of older adults into three groups based on hours spent sedentary. The least sedentary group spent between 12 and 13 hours sedentary while the most sedentary group remained sedentary for up to 15 hours per day.

Initial results showed that older men in the most sedentary group were 83 percent more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and older women were 63 percent more likely, compared to men and women in the least sedentary group.

Next the researchers asked: Does being physically fit outweigh the risks of spending too many hours in the day sitting down?

Accelerometer measurements collected over a week as an objective measurement of activity in 874 study participants helped researchers compare an individuals’ physical fitness with any evident cardiovascular risk factors clusters, defined by the study as the presence of at least three of five risk factors for cardiovascular disease: elevated waist circumference, elevated blood triglycerides, reduce HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high levels of fasting blood sugar, also known as the factors that define metabolic syndrome.

Results showed that seniors who had the highest fitness levels also had the lowest risk of having a cardiovascular risk factor cluster, even if they spent 12 or 13 hours per day sitting down, and even if the individuals did not meet current recommendations for levels of physical activity.

“It seems that fitness makes a difference for this age group,” said first author Silvana Sandbakk. “While we wait for more evidence, some physical activity in elders that improves fitness will go a long way.”

The study provides evidence for a reduction in the likelihood of having risk factors for cardiovascular disease being associated to high age-specific fitness, defined here as being among the fittest 40 percent of the older adult population.

“We spend more and more time sitting on average as we age,” Sandbakk said. “But our findings show that being fit plays an important role in successful aging and may lend protection against the negative health effects of being sedentary.” Sandbakk and the rest of the team from Norwegian University will continue to follow the study participants to observe any improvement of fitness in relation to sedentary habits and the potential for physical activity to prevent or delay lifestyle-related disease and aging.

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology
About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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