Exercise: Appropriate for Those Over Age 60?

Individuals over the age of 60 should do more exercise (not less) to reduce heart disease and stroke risk.Should we continue to focus on physical activity as we age? What if you are over the age of sixty years old? We recently got more answers from a study of over 1.1 million older people, published in the European Heart Journal 07 November 2019.

What Researchers Did

Researchers in South Korea looked at men and women ages 60 years or older. The subjects had two consecutive health checks from 2009 to 2010 and 2011 to 2012. The NIHS provides healthcare services for about ninety-seven percent of the Korean population. The investigators followed participants until December 2016.

The study authors collected data on heart disease and stroke from January 2013 through December 2016. They considered socioeconomic factors, age, sex, other medical conditions, medications, and lifestyle behaviors such as smoking and alcohol consumption.

The average age of the subjects was 67 years, and forty-seven percent were men. Roughly two-thirds of participants indicated that they were physically inactive at both the first and second screening periods. Twenty-two percent of inactive folks increased their physical activity by the time of the second check-in. Fifty-four percent of those who had been exercising five or more times per week at the first screening became inactive by the time of the second visit.

What Researchers Discovered

During the study period, there were 114,856 cases of heart disease or stroke. Looking in more detail, researchers found the following:

  • Individuals who moved from being continuously inactive at the 2009–2010 health check to being moderately or vigorously active three to four times per week during the second check had an eleven percent lower risk of cardiovascular problems;
  • Individuals who were moderately or vigorously physically active one or two times per week at the first check-in, and then became inactive at the second check-in had a twenty-seven percent increased risk of cardiovascular problems.
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Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

The investigators then turned to those with disabilities and chronic conditions. Those who went from inactivity to being moderately or vigorously active three times a week also reduced their cardiovascular problems. Those with a disability had a reduced risk of sixteen percent, and those with diabetes, high blood pressure, or increased cholesterol levels had a drop in risk of four to seven percent.

My Take

  • First, the study has some limitations. While the study size is a strength, it was carried out exclusively in a Korean population. Generalizations to other communities are problematic in light of factors such as ethnicity and lifestyle. Also, physical activity was self-reported by a survey, with potential attendant bias. The authors lacked information on some types of physical activity (such as housework and muscle-strengthening activities). Finally, the researchers could not assess why some people changed their activity levels.
  • Now, the positives. I think we have a growing body of evidence suggesting that older adults should increase or maintain their exercise frequency to reduce their chances of getting cardiovascular disease. The benefits of exercise are present even for those with some physical limitations. Clinicians need to do a better job of assessing physical activity, and also prescribing it. Finally, with the world’s population of people 60 years of age or older due to hit two billion by the year 2050, we need to design our physical worlds better to encourage some form of physical activity.

There are many reasons for older individuals to keep moving. You may live longer, reduce your fall risk, and drop your heart attack risk or stroke. You can also improve your bone density, lower your chances of developing dementia, prevent or delay many other chronic conditions, and improve your confidence and independence. It doesn’t take much to improve your health, but please check in with a valued health professional before jumping in.

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.


  1. Kyuwoong Kim, Seulggie Choi, Seo Eun Hwang,and colleagues. Changes in exercise frequency and cardiovascular outcomes in older adults. European Heart Journal, 2019; DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehz768
  2. European Society of Cardiology. “Increased exercise over the age of 60 reduces risk of heart disease and stroke: Decreasing your physical activity is linked to increased cardiovascular risk.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 November 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191107202
  3. https://home.bt.com/lifestyle/health/wellness/7-benefits-of-exercise-for-the-elderly-11364144390476

Written by

I have degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Penn. I am a radiation oncologist in the Seattle area. You may find me regularly posting at www.newcancerinfo.com

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