If you’re going to try your damnedest to live to be 100, you’ve got to make some lifestyle changes in your 50s. Namely, you’ve got to ramp up your physical activity to avoid heart failure, according to research from Johns Hopkins Medicine.
In a massive study involving more than 11,000 American adults, researchers found getting the recommended amount of exercise over a span of six years in middle age may cut the risk of heart failure. That’s big news for a condition that affects five to six million Americans. Especially since as little as six years without physical activity can do just the opposite and heighten your risk.
In the study, published in the journal Circulation, researchers analyzed men and women for roughly 19 years. They noted any instances of cardiovascular disease—like heart attack, stroke, and heart failure—during the study’s duration. Participants also came in for medical testing every six years, filling out questionnaires about their physical activity levels, indicating:
- Poor: no exercise
- Intermediate: one to 74 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity
- “Recommended”: at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week or at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week (on par with the American Heart Association’s advice)
During the third visit, 42 percent of participants said they hit the recommended levels of exercise, 23 percent completed intermediate levels, and 35 percent had poor levels of activity. Overall, 24 percent of participants increased their physical activity, 22 percent decreased, and 54 percent remained steadfast.
Those who were consistent and got the recommended amount of activity from the first to the third visit showed the biggest drop in associated heart failure risk: 31 percent. Those who boosted activity from poor to intermediate (as well as intermediate to recommended) lowered their risk by 12 percent. Unfortunately, heart failure risk spiked by 18 percent in those who stayed sedentary or those whose activity levels decreased.
Bottom line: Even if you’ve been sedentary for most of your adult life, beginning to work out at middle age can decrease your risk of heart failure. And if you were a stellar athlete in your youth, don’t depend on all that activity to slingshot you into good health in your golden years. You need to maintain your activity levels.
FYI, fewer than 50 percent of Americans get the recommended amount of activity, which can include brisk walking, biking, weight training, jogging, yoga, and more. Just stay active.