Active people live longer. Physical activity, heart diseases and all-cause mortality among older people

Physical activity is an essential factor for supporting older people to live healthier and longer lives. The aim of this doctoral thesis was to examine physical activity in older populations, and cardiac disease and physical activity as predictors of all-cause mortality over the follow-up periods from ten to eighteen years.

This study was part of two research projects measuring health and functioning in older populations. The first data were collected in the city of Jyväskylä in Central Finland (the Evergeen project) and the second in three Nordic localities: Jyväskylä in Finland, Göteborg in Sweden and Glostrup in Denmark (Nordic research on ageing, NORA project). At the beginning of the study, the participants were 75 and 80-year olds. The data were collected using structured interviews and laboratory examinations 1989 - 1990 with five year follow-up. Mortality status was monitored for ten to eighteen years.

The results of this study showed that physical activity declines among older people over the five year period, but still a relatively small number of the older people were able to increase their physical activity level. Heart disease is a strong predictor of decline in physical activity. Physically active lifestyles predicted longer life. The mortality rate was also lower among those older people who had cardiac disease but were physically active. Persistence and change in physical activity level were associated with mortality, the association of which was largely explained by the maximal walking speed over 10 meters.

The results suggest that a physically active lifestyle was associated with lower all-cause mortality among older people. Especially among the old people with cardiac disease, physical activity was a strong predictor of longevity.  Older people should be encouraged to be physically active and maintain an active lifestyle. When planning preventive programs and rehabilitation, in addition to physical activity, more attention should be focused on cardiac disease among older people.


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City (for University):
University of Jyväskylä