(HealthDay News) -- Starting to exercise later in life can still reduce your risk of heart failure, and even modest increases in activity could provide some protection, researchers say.
"Our findings suggest that when it comes to exercise and heart failure, the better-later-than-never axiom rings particularly true, and that even small boosts in activity can cut risk," senior investigator Dr. Chiadi Ndumele said in a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine news release. He is a preventive cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the medical school.
The researchers studied the exercise habits of about 11,000 American men and women in a 20-year government study on aging and heart disease. All were between the ages of 45 and 64. None had heart disease at the start of the study. Activity levels were assessed on two consecutive visits over six years.
Compared to those who were inactive at both visits, people who met or exceeded recommended physical activity levels of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week at both visits were 33 percent less likely to develop heart failure, the study found. Those who were consistently getting modest amounts of exercise -- less than 149 minutes of moderate activity or less than 74 minutes of vigorous activity a week -- had a 20 percent lower risk, the study revealed.
But the researchers also found that inactive people who got moving to reach recommended physical activity levels at some point during the study reduced their risk of heart failure -- by 22 percent. Inactive folks who increased their activity levels to about 30 minutes of walking four times a week reduced their risk by 12 percent, the researchers said.
The study was presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Study first author Dr. Roberta Florido, a cardiology fellow at Hopkins, said in the news release, "Many people get discouraged if they don't have the time or ability to exercise vigorously, but our findings demonstrate that every little bit of movement matters and that picking up exercise later in life is decidedly better than not moving at all."
About 5 million Americans and 23 million people worldwide have heart failure, the researchers said.
-- Robert Preidt
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