Don’t have time in your schedule for a vigorous jog? Take heart: A new study finds mid-lifers can enhance their heart health by regularly engaging in leisure and household activities such as gardening, brisk walking and housework. And it’s never too late to get active.
The research, which appears in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, studied people who had participated in these activities regularly for more than a decade.
"It's not just vigorous exercise and sports that are important" to heart health, said Mark Hamer, Ph.D., study lead author and associate professor of epidemiology and public health at University College in London, U.K., in a press release. "These leisure-time activities represent moderate intensity exercise that is important to health. It is especially important for older people to be physically active because it contributes to successful aging."
The study followed 4,200 people who recorded the duration and frequency of activities outside of work, ranging from sports to chores. They included cycling, sports, brisk walking, home maintenance, “vigorous” gardening and housework.
Between 1991 and 1993, researchers conducted a baseline assessment that analyzed two important inflammatory markers, C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Participants who engaged in regular activity had lower levels of CRP and IL-6 than those who did not. When participants were reexamined during a 10-year follow-up, the levels remained stable versus those who were minimally active.
"Inflammatory markers are important because we have shown they are a key mechanism explaining the link between physical activity and the lower risk of heart disease," Hamer noted in a press release. "The people who benefited the most from this study were the ones that remained physically active." But if you’re a couch potato, the study should encourage you to get moving: People who shifted from an inactive to active lifestyle had lower inflammatory markers at their follow-up.
One interesting tangential finding from the study: People become more active in retirement. About half of participants engaged in moderate to vigorous activity for the recommended 2.5 hours per week for heart health -- but the rate soared to 83 percent in later phases of the study.
"The percentage of exercising participants jumped quite a bit because they were entering their retirement during the last phase of the study," Hamer said in a press release. "We have shown that retirement seems to have a beneficial effect on physical activity levels."
The study participants were part of the ongoing Whitehall II research, which has followed more than 10,000 British civil service workers since 1985 to examine social and occupational influences on cardiovascular health.
Exercising does more than improve your exterior. Several studies have found <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/27/phys-ed-how-exercising-keeps-your-cells-young/" target="_hplink">an active lifestyle keeps your cells young</a>, according to <em>The New York Times.</em>
Eat Carrots, Pumpkin and Squash
These orange veggies are chock full of the phytonutrient alpha-carotene, which <a href="http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-alpha-carotene-112310,0,2855017.story" target="_hplink">lowered the risk of dying from cancer and cardiovascular diseases</a> in a study, according to <em>The Los Angeles Times</em>.
Avoid Too Much Sun
Sun worshippers, take heed: Between <a href="http://www.who.int/uv/faq/skincancer/en/index1.html" target="_hplink">two and three million people are diagnosed with skin cancer</a> globally each year, according to the World Health Organization. With May being Skin Cancer Awareness Month, <a href="http://www.thirdage.com/skin/skin-cancer-awareness-month">Third Age has tips on how to avoid the "potentially fatal cancer."</a>
A ring-a-ding-ding! Dr. Braverman of <em>The Doctors</em> suggests <a href="http://www.thedoctorstv.com/main/content/Anti_Aging" target="_hplink">having sex at least two times a week to help "reboot the brain</a>."
Take Your Omega-3s
Studies suggest that foods rich in this fatty acid may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's.
The Computer-Exercise Combo
<em>Huff/Post50</em> recently reported on a study that had subjects <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/01/preventing-memory-loss_n_1465789.html?ref=fifty&ir=Fifty&just_reloaded=1">do moderate exercise and use a computer, which resulted in increased memory function</a>.
Up Your Glutathione Intake
<a href="http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/quality-life-concierge/2012/apr/16/glutathione-anti-aging-machine/">Glutathione is a rock-star antioxidant found in the body's cells</a> that "neutralizes harmful free radicals," and keeps cells running smoothly, <a href="http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/glutathione-new-supplement-on-block" target="_hplink">according to WebMD</a>. To attain these benefits, eat a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables.
Own A Pet
While there are conflicting reports on whether or not pets will add years to your life, it is confirmed that <a href="http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/rethinking-the-value-of-pets/" target="_hplink">pets can ease stress and lower blood pressure</a>, <em>The New York Times</em> reports.
Limit Sugar Intake
A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but it also "<a href="http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/02/11437/societal-control-sugar-essential-ease-public-health-burden" target="_hplink">changes metabolism, raises blood pressure, critically alters the signaling of hormones and causes significant damage to the liver</a>," according to three doctors at the University of California at San Francisco. In a <a href="http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v482/n7383/full/482027a.html" target="_hplink">recent issue of Nature</a>, they argued that the health hazards of sugar are similar to those related to drinking too much alcohol.