Gardening is not traditionally considered exercise, but such physical activity may be beneficial. (ISTOCKPHOTO)
Activity and health
Non-exercise activity may lead to a healthier heart and a longer life

THE QUESTION Many studies have linked regular exercise to health benefits, especially heart-related ones. But are there similar benefits from day-to-day physical activity beyond what is traditionally considered “exercise”?

THIS STUDY involved 3,839 men and women, all 60 years old and with no previous heart disease. At the start of the study, they were given physical exams and various tests to evaluate their cardiovascular health. Their physical activity and exercise habits also were assessed. During the next 121 / 2 years, 476 of the participants experienced angina (heart-related chest pain) or had a heart attack or an ischemic stroke (caused by a blocked artery), and 383 died. Overall, those who had generally active daily lives had better heart health than those whose day-to-day life was more sedentary, regardless of how much intentional exercise they did.

At the start, people whose days included more non-exercise physical activities — such as home fix-it projects, yard work, bike riding, fishing and picking berries — had better heart-health profiles: lower cholesterol levels, smaller waists and better glucose and insulin levels. By the end of the study, people with the most-active daily lives, whether they intentionally exercised or not, were 27 percent less likely to have had a heart attack, stroke or angina and 30 percent less likely to have died than were those who were the least active.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People 60 and older. The study’s researchers noted that older people often have trouble doing formal exercise at the recommended intensity levels but spend more time doing non-exercise physical activities than younger people.

CAVEATS Data on physical activity and exercise came from the participants’ responses to a questionnaire. The study did not determine the relative benefits of the various activities.

FIND THIS STUDY Oct. 28 online issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

LEARN MORE ABOUT the benefits of physical activity at www.cdc.gov. And learn how to stay active at www.nihseniorhealth.gov (click on “Healthy Aging”).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.