"If you feel comfortable with your usual physical activity, do not slow down as you get older - try to walk an extra block or walk at a faster pace," said Luisa Soares-Miranda, a researcher at Harvard School of Public Health in US.

People who walk more and faster and have more physically active leisure time have fewer irregular heart rhythms and greater heart rate variability than those who are less active.

Heart rate variability is difference in the time between one heartbeat and the next during everyday life.

"These small differences are influenced by the health of the heart and the nervous system that regulates the heart," Soares-Miranda noted.

For the study, researchers evaluated 24-hour heart monitor recordings of 985 people of age 65 or above."Any physical activity is better than none but maintaining or increasing your activity has added heart benefits as you age," Soares-Miranda added.

The researchers calculated that the difference between the highest and lowest levels of physical activity would translate into an estimated 11 percent lower risk of heart attack or sudden cardiac death.

"Our results also suggest that these certain beneficial changes that occur may be reduced when physical activity is reduced," she noted.

The findings appeared in the journal Circulation.


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