In order to bring you the best possible user experience, this site uses Javascript. If you are seeing this message, it is likely that the Javascript option in your browser is disabled. For optimal viewing of this site, please ensure that Javascript is enabled for your browser.
Did you know that your browser is out of date? To get the best experience using our website we recommend that you upgrade to a newer version. Learn more.

Exercise for oldies - is it worthwhile?

Comment by Maja-Lisa Løchen, Population Science and Public Health Section

Preventive Cardiology
Rehabilitation and Sports Cardiology

How do we motivate older people to get off that couch? This is a challenging task for health workers in the pandemic where people have an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Is regular exercise for older adults healthy and safe, and what is the best recipe or guideline for exercise?

This recently published report in the European Heart Journal from Trondheim, Norway, does not answer the question about how to motivate older adults for exercise. The research group, under the leadership of Jon Magne Letnes, performed a huge randomized controlled study comparing the effects and safety of five years of supervised exercise training (ExComb) twice a week; i.e. high-intensity (HIIT) and moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) with a control group in 1567 men and women aged 70-77 at baseline (1).

The participants were healthy and able to exercise. The HIIT session aimed at 90% of peak heart rate, the MICT at 70% peak heart rate (together they were ExComb), and the control should follow national physical activity guidelines. The outcomes were a cardiovascular risk score, individual risk factors and peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak). ExComb and the control group achieved similar cardiovascular risk score and VO2peak. HIIT showed higher VO2peak and some better individual risk factors than the control group. Effects were similar in both sexes and the number of cardiovascular events were similar in the three groups. No adverse events occured during the intensive training sessions. The researchers concluded that this healthy and fit group of older adults in one community with contamination of exercise habits between the groups, probably made it impossible to achieve significant differences between the groups.

In an accompanying editorial, Mai-Lis Hellénius concludes that the study results need to be interpreted in the light of the population effects, because many cardiovascular risk factors were improved during the trial. Even small reductions in the individual risk factors at the population level would provide major health benefits (2).

We need to find new, effective methods for exercise in older adults to motivate them. Exercise is worthwhile, it is healthy and safe, and should be fun, enjoyable and possible as well. This challenge is particularly relevant not only for health professionals, but for public health officers, politicians and stakeholders who are planning our environments and communities (3).


Maja-Lisa Løchen commented on this article:

1. Letnes JM, Berglund I, Johnson KE, Dalen H, Nes BM, Lydersen S, Viken H, Hassel E, Steinshamn S, Vesterbekkmo EK, Støylen A, Reitlo LS, Zisko N, Bækkerud FH, Tari AR, Ingebrigtsen JE, Sandbakk SB, Carlsen T, Anderssen SA, Singh MAF, Coombes JS, Helbostad JL, Rognmo Ø, Wisløff U, Stensvold D. Effect of 5 years of exercise training on the cardiovascular risk profile of older adults: the Generation 100 randomized trial. Eur Heart J. 2021 Nov 8:ehab721. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehab721.

other references:

2. Hellénius ML. Encouraging physical activity amongst older adults; where should we stand? Eur Heart J. 2022 Mar 17:ehab872. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehab872. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35296877.

3. Van Dyck D, Barnett A, Van Cauwenberg J, Zhang CJP, Sit CHP, Cerin E. Main and interacting effects of physical activity and sedentary time on older adults' BMI: The moderating roles of socio-demographic and environmental attributes. PLoS One. 2020 Jul 9;15(7):e0235833. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0235833.

Notes to editor

Note: The content of this article reflects the personal opinion of the author/s and is not necessarily the official position of the European Society of Cardiology.