PhotoLooking for an easy, inexpensive way to improve your health? Start walking, then start walking farther and then, finally, start walking faster.

In a nutshell, that's the finding of a large community-based study of older Americans that found modest physical activity was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. This was true even among men and women older than age 75 at baseline -- a rapidly growing population for whom regular activity has been advised, but with little empirical evidence.

"Our study of older Americans shows that, even late in life, moderate physical activity such as walking is linked to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease," commented Luisa Soares-Miranda, Ph.D., a member of the research team.

"It appears that whether one increases the total distance or the pace of walking, CVD risk is lowered. Fortunately, walking is an activity that many older adults can enjoy," Soares-Miranda said.

Mean age

Led by senior author, Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, the researchers studied a group of American adults whose mean age was 73 at the start of the study and who were then followed for 10 years.

Information on various usual activities was assessed at the beginning of the study and regularly updated throughout. When the researchers evaluated different aspects of physical activity by the men and women during this ten-year period -- a greater pace, walking distance, and leisure activity -- each was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study found that, after adjustment for other risk factors and lifestyle behaviors, those who were more active had significantly lower risk of future heart attacks and stroke. Adults who walked at a pace faster than three miles per hour (mph) had a 50%, 53%, 50% lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and total heart disease, respectively, compared to those who walked at a pace of less than two mph.

Those who walked an average of seven blocks per day or more had a 36%, 54%, and 47% lower risk of CHD, stroke, and total CVD, respectively, compared to those who walked up to five blocks per week.

Those who engaged in leisure activities such as lawn-mowing, raking, gardening, swimming, biking, and hiking also had a lower risk of CHD, stroke, and total CVD, compared to those who did not engage in leisure-time activities.

The findings were similar in both men and women, in those above or below age 75 at baseline, and including only those with similarly good or excellent self-reported health.

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