Taking up exercise for just 20 minutes per day in your seventies can halve the risk of potentially fatal heart issues, a study suggests.
Researchers found that men aged 70 to 75 who regularly garden, cycle, walk or take other exercise for that duration are 52 per cent less likely to get cardiovascular disease compared to the inactive.
Older women who exercise are also at a lower risk, although the reduction is just eight per cent.
The researchers said their findings, published in the British Medical Journal, reinforce the idea that it is ‘better late than never’ when it comes to exercise.
Exercise strengthens the heart and lowers blood pressure.
The team said their findings support advising adults to continue or start exercising in mid and early late life because there is a ‘probably greater effectiveness in reducing cardiovascular risks’.
A study of nearly 6,000 Britons aged over 50 shows vigorous activity — such as running, swimming or tennis — at least once a week is needed to ward off musculoskeletal pain in the long-term
The graphs show the risk of cardiovascular disease (top left), coronary heart disease (top right), heart failure (bottom left) and stroke (bottom right) in relation to how much exercise a person does. A study of 2,574 Italians aged 65 and over found 20 to 40 minutes of exercise per day triggered the sharpest reduction in the risk of developing heart problems, with exercise over and above this point triggering less benefits. The researchers did not spot a link between activity level and stroke
Researchers at the University of Padua and the University of Ferrara examined health data on 2,754 people in Italy aged 65 and over for 20 years, or until they died.
To determine the benefits of exercise later in life, the researchers monitored the participants’ activity levels and cases of heart disease, heart failure and stroke.
The volunteers completed a questionnaire on their exercise habits. Moderate physical activity including walking, bowls and fishing, while vigorous exercise included gardening, cycling and swimming.
Participants were considered to be active if they exercised moderately or vigorously for more than 20 minutes a day, while less than 20 minutes was considered inactive.
Over the course of the study, 1,037 cardiovascular problems were recorded.
HOW MUCH EXERCISE SHOULD I DO?
Adults aged 19 to 64 are advised to exercise daily.
The NHS says Britons should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity a week.
The advice is the same for disabled adults, pregnant women and new mothers.
Exercising just one or twice a week can reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.
Moderate activity includes brisk walking, water aerobics, riding a bike, dancing, doubles tennis, pushing a lawn mower, hiking and rollerblading.
Vigorous exercise includes running, swimming, riding a bike fast or on hills, walking up stairs, as well as sports such as football, rugby, netball and hockey.
Working out for 20 to 40 minutes a day was the sweet spot for improved health, with the sharpest reduction in heart disease and heart failure risk spotted among those exercising for this timeframe, the researchers said.
Maintaining 20 minutes of daily exercise throughout their sixties and seventies gave the biggest health benefits. It reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease among men by 52 per cent.
Meanwhile, women saw an eight per cent drop in the risk of cardiovascular disease if consistently exercised for 20 minutes.
But those who upped their exercise from less than 20 minutes in their sixties to more than 20 minutes in their seventies also gained protection against cardiovascular disease.
The risk dropped 35 per cent for men and six per cent for women.
Despite seeing a smaller drop in the risk of heart problems, active women were 19 per cent less likely to die over the course of the study. But men still saw a greater protective effect from exercise, as they were 28 per cent less likely to die.
The researchers said their findings show exercising had the biggest protective effect at age 70.
By the age of 75, those exercising were only marginally less likely to suffer from heart problems and by the age of 85 there was no reduced risk, according to the findings.
The researchers said this suggests improving physical activity earlier in old age will have the most impact.
They noted that the study relied on participants self-reporting their exercise habits and there was no data on their physical activity levels at a younger age, which may have impacted their risk of heart problems in later life.
And the study was observational, so other lifestyle factors may have impacted the reduced risk among more active volunteers.
At least 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day should be recommended to achieve the greatest cardiovascular benefits.
The World Health Organization also advises older adults to do 20 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise a day.
In an article published alongside the study, Dr Enrico Fabris and Dr Gianfranco Sinagra, heart experts at the University of Trieste, said the mechanisms of how exercise reduces the future risk of cardiovascular disease is not fully understood.
But this may be due to exercise slowing down the thickening of the arteries and regulating blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol.