Among elderly adults with limited mobility, even very short periods of light daily exercise might significantly cut 10-year risk of heart attack or coronary death, according to researchers.

Conversely, every extra half hour per day that older adults are sedentary could raise their 10-year death risk by about 1%, explained Jodi D. Fitzgerald of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and her associates (J. Am. Heart Assoc. 2015 [doi:10.1161/JAHA.114.001288]).

The cross-sectional analysis is the first to document such findings among the elderly, including those with mobility restrictions, said the researchers.

“Replacing sedentary behavior with any intensity of physical activity seems beneficial for this population,” they added. “For mobility-limited older adults, this may be achieved simply by being intentional about moving around or leaving the home more often.”

The researchers analyzed data from 1,170 adults in the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study, which was carried out at eight centers in the United States. Participants were aged 70-89 years and had limited mobility, but could walk 400 meters in 15 minutes or less, the investigators said.

Using accelerometers, the researchers measured the amount of time participants were sedentary, performed light exercise such as slow walking, and engaged in moderate walking or similarly challenging activities.

After adjustment for factors such as diabetes and use of statins and antihypertensives, every extra minute of light exercise per day was associated with an estimated 0.05% drop in 10-year risk of cardiovascular death (P < .05), the investigators reported.

Every minute of sedentary behavior was linked to a 0.04% rise in 10-year death risk in patients with cardiovascular disease, and a 0.03% rise in patients without cardiovascular disease. Those findings equate to a 1% increase in 10-year death risk for every 25-30 sedentary minutes per day, the investigators said.

The National Institutes of Health and participating universities funded the study. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.