Leisure-Time Physical Activity for Healthy Hearts

Older adults who spent more time active had less erratic heartbeats

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Older adults now have another reason to add gardening or a leisurely evening walk into their daily routines.

Recently, researchers looked at the connection between leisure time physical activity and cardiac well-being in older adults.

These researchers found that older adults who spent more time being active had more regular heartbeats than those who were less active.

Additionally, older adults who increased their walking distance or pace had better heart rate variability than those who decreased the amount and pace at which they walked.

"Continue to be physically active as you age."

Luisa Soares-Miranda, PhD, of the Department of Epidemiology in the Harvard School of Public Health, led this study.

According to Dr. Soares-Miranda and colleagues, heart-related diseases are linked to aging. Furthermore, an irregular heartbeat can be a risk factor for problems like stroke, heart disease and blood clots.

This study examined how physical activity affected variability in heart rates among older adults.

The researchers recruited 985 older adults and evaluated physical activity levels and heart rate variability for five years.

The average age of participants was 71 years old at the beginning of the study.

To evaluate physical activity habits, the researchers used a questionnaire that included questions about the frequency and duration of activities like gardening, swimming, aerobics, hiking and walking.

The researchers determined whether participants developed irregular heartbeats by monitoring heart rate for a 24-hour period at baseline (start of the study) and five years later.

The authors of this study reported that participants burned an average of 630 calories per week through leisure-time physical activity.

The researchers discovered that greater total leisure-time activity, longer walking distances and a faster walking pace were each tied to less erratic heart rhythms.

Additionally, participants who increased their average walking distance or pace over the course of the study demonstrated healthier heart rates than those who reduced walking distance or pace.

The researchers estimated that the participants with the highest levels of physical activity had an 11 percent lower risk of heart attack or heart-related death than those with the lowest levels.

Dr. Soares-Miranda and team concluded that physical activity among older adults was tied to a healthier, less erratic heartbeat.

These researchers suggested that older adults continue to engage in moderate physical activity, like walking.

This study was published in Circulation on May 5.

The research was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute on Aging. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 6, 2014
Last Updated:
May 7, 2014