Gardening isn't just a relaxing pastime. New research has found it can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke by nearly one-third in people 60 and older.
The findings, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, are the latest to weigh in on the health benefits of low-impact exercise and longevity. Researchers from the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences and the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm found that gardening — and similar — activities as good as more formal exercise regimens because they decrease total sedentary time, particularly among less-active seniors.
"Our findings are particularly important for older adults, because individuals in this age group tend, compared to other age groups, to spend a relatively greater proportion of their active day performing [routine activities] as they often find it difficult to achieve recommended exercise intensity levels," the researchers concluded.
The findings are based on analysis of the medical records of nearly 4,000 60-year-olds in Stockholm, whose cardiovascular health was tracked for about 12 years. At the start of the study, the seniors took part in a health check, which included information on lifestyle, such as diet, smoking, and alcohol intake, and how physically active they were.
They were asked how often they engaged a range of daily activities — gardening, car maintenance and blackberry picking — over the previous 12 months, and whether they participated in any formal exercise. Their cardiovascular health was assessed through lab tests and physical exams to check on blood fats, blood sugars, and other factors linked to heart attack and stroke.
The results showed those who had a generally active daily life had a much lower risk profile for cardiovascular problems, regardless of how much formal exercise they took. They also tended to have smaller waists, lower levels of potentially harmful blood fats and other risk factors.The same was true of seniors who engaged in a lot of formal exercise.
During study, 476 of the participants had their first heart attack and 383 died. The highest level of daily physical activity was associated with a 27 percent lower risk of a heart attack or stroke and a 30 percent reduced risk of death from all causes, compared with the lowest level.
The findings suggest prolonged sitting drives down metabolism and negatively effects hormonal activity — raising cardiovascular risks — while physical activity is beneficial for both.
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