No Sweat

female hanging clothes on line to dry.

When it comes to heart health in older women, a little movement goes a long way.

For older women, gardening, folding clothes or taking a stroll with friends might be enough physical activity to have a significant impact on health and longevity.

A study led by Michael LaMonte, research associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the University at Buffalo, found that 30 minutes of daily light activity can reduce the risk of death by 12% in women over the age of 65.

A follow-up study co-authored by LaMonte helps explain how. It found that light activity appears to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, such as stroke or heart failure, by up to 22%, and the risk of heart attack or coronary death by as much as 42%. 

Looking at activity levels

In the new study, researchers asked more than 5,500 women aged 63-97 to wear hip-mounted accelerometers—a device similar to a fitness tracker—that measured their daily movement for seven days, distinguishing between light and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. They then tracked the participants’ cardiovascular disease events over a period of nearly five years.

The data revealed that light physical activity mattered for heart health, even after accounting for age, multiple chronic illnesses like cancer or arthritis, and other risk factors.

Encouraging news

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women, and older women suffer profoundly: Nearly 68% of those between the ages of 60 and 79 have it. So these findings have immense public health implications.

“Our results could be transformative to future public health and clinical recommendations,” says LaMonte, who was motivated to do the study by the fact that those guidelines have focused heavily over the years on moderate-to-strenuous activities.

“For many adults 65 and older, that level of effort is not possible, or enjoyable,” he explains. “We wanted to know if activities at lower intensities could be beneficial if done regularly. We hope that other studies confirm our results, and that future guidelines for older adults are more along the lines of: ‘Sit less, move more, go at your own pace and effort.’”