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Exercise just as beneficial as giving up smoking for older men

diego cervo

There's even more proof of the benefits of staying active as you age. New research finds that just thirty minutes of physical activity six days a week is associated with 40 percent lower risk of death among elderly men -- and even light activity helps.

The study, published online today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, also found that increasing exercise levels appeared to be as good for health as quitting smoking.

The findings, researchers wrote, suggest that "public health strategies in elderly men should include efforts to increase physical activity in line with efforts to reduce smoking behavior."

Researchers from Norway began with a survey of 15,000 men born between 1923 and 1932. As part of the Oslo Study in 1972, the men's height, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking status were recorded. They also logged their weekly leisure time physical activity levels, which were categorized as sedentary (watching TV/reading); light (walking or cycling, including to and from work, for at least 4 hours a week); moderate (formal exercise, sporting activities or heavy gardening for at least 4 hours a week); and vigorous (hard training or competitive sports several times a week).

Nearly three decades later, about 5,700 of the surviving men repeated the process. They were monitored for almost 12 more years to see if physical activity levels over time could be linked to a lowered risk of death from heart disease or any cause, and to see how its impact compared to smoking cessation.

During the monitoring period, 2,154 of the men who had participated in both studies died. The results showed that while less than an hour of light exercise per week had little effect on risk of death, more than an hour was associated with a 32 to 56 percent lower risk.

Additionally, less than an hour of vigorous exercise appeared to cut the risk of cardiovascular disease and death from any cause by between 23 and 37 percent.

The more time spent participating in vigorous physical activity, the lower the risk seemed to be. Men who regularly took part in moderate to physical activity lived an average of five years longer than participants who classified their leisure time as sedentary.

When looking at all the numbers, researchers determined that 30 minutes of physical activity, whether light, moderate, or vigorous, six days a week, was associated with a 40 percent reduction in risk of death from any cause.

Researchers acknowledged that the observational study did not prove cause and effect, and that only the healthiest men from the first portion of the study participated in the second round, which may have skewed the numbers.

However, they suggest the findings are still significant and urged doctors to make a concerted effort to educate elderly patients on the benefits of exercising. "More time and resources should be allocated in primary care to increase the degree of physical activity among the elderly," the researchers wrote in the study.