According to German researchers it's never too late to start exercising and even long time couch potatoes can reduce their risk of heart disease, by just getting off the sofa and going for a walk.
Researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany say this need not entail strenuous activity such as a work out at the gym, and just walking can make a difference.
Dr. Dietrich Rothenbacher of the University of Heidelberg says people who change their physical activity patterns in late adult life reduce their risk for coronary heart disease.
Rothenbacher, an epidemiologist at the university and his team studied the impact of physical activity on patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) and a group of healthy volunteers of the same age and sex.
They found that people who exercised throughout their lives had the lowest risk of the disease, which is one of the biggest killers in industrialized countries, but they also found that people who changed their physical activity patterns in late adult life also reduced their risk for CHD.
The scientists based their findings on 312 adults between the ages of 40 and 68 who had confirmed coronary artery disease and 479 volunteers matched for age and sex.
Each participant was interviewed about their level of physical activity in early adulthood, classified as the period between 20 and 39, and in late adulthood, defined as the period after the age of 40.
Not surprisingly, known risk factors for CHD, including smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure tended to be more common among those with confirmed disease.
They found that people who had been active throughout their lives had about a 60 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with CHD but they also found that those who changed their ways and began exercising after the age of 40 were about 55 percent less likely to be diagnosed with the illness than people who had always been inactive.
Rothenbacher suggests that while optimal health is likely to be enjoyed by those who exercise all their lives, it is not too late to start.
Regular exercise, even if started in older life, still confers many benefits and substantially cuts the risk of heart disease.
The study is published in the journal Heart.