Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Patients are often prescribed therapeutic drugs like anti-hypertension and cholesterol-lowering drugs to slow progression and reduce the risk of a CVD event. Patients are also encouraged to adopt healthier lifestyle choices like refraining from smoking and alcohol, eating healthy, reducing stress, and being physically active. Recently, a group of researchers conducted the Lifestyle Independence and Interventions for Elders (LIFE) study, aimed at determining whether physical activity is an effective strategy for reducing CVD risk in an elderly population.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death worldwide, killing an estimated 17 million people in 2012 alone. A better understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to CVD is absolutely crucial. Equally important is the development of therapeutic drugs and effective prevention strategies against CVD. Exercise is one of the preventative measures shown to be promising in effectively reducing risk of CVD events. Clinical trials have demonstrated that physical activity can slow the progression of coronary artery disease, and reduce the number of CVD events like heart attacks. Unfortunately, these studies excluded many frail older adults who are at the highest risk of CVD and disability.
To test whether long-term physical activity can successfully reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, a group of researchers conducted the Lifestyle Independence and Interventions for Elders (LIFE) study. The study recruited 1,635 participants aged 70-89 from several different field centers across the United States. The participants were randomly split into either the physical activity (PA) intervention group or the successful aging (SA) group. The participants in the PA intervention group were subjected to 150 minutes per week of walking, as well as strength, flexibility, and balance training. In contrast, the SA group attended weekly workshops relating to health education for the first 26 weeks, and then monthly sessions following that. At recruitment, baseline measurements were conducted including information regarding patient history, an ECG recording, and a physical examination. Follow-up examinations were conducted every 6 months where information regarding CVD incidents and deaths were recorded. It was demonstrated that total cardiovascular events did not significantly differ between the PA and SA groups. 14.3% of the participants in the PA group suffered a cardiovascular event, while 13.8% of participants in the SA group suffered a cardiovascular event.
The LIFE study suggested that physical exercise did not effectively reduce the risk of CVD events from occurring in an elderly, high risk, population. The lack of therapeutic benefits of exercise could be due to suboptimal intensity and limited duration of the physical activity. Furthermore, the population studied was at high risk of CVD events, and thus physical activity may be an ineffective therapeutic strategy in this specific population. The study did successfully demonstrate, however, that physical exercise reduced mobility disability and improved cognition. Therefore, despite a lack of reduction in CVD events, exercise should be promoted and encouraged in elderly adults to improve mobility and cognition.
Written By: Haisam Shah, BSc