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Cardiovascular health and physical activity in older adults: an integrative review of research methodology and results


Susan Crocker Houde, Department of Nursing, University of Massachusetts Lowell, 3 Solomont Way, Suite 2, Lowell, MA 01854, USA. E-mail:


Cardiovascular health and physical activity in older adults: an integrative review of research methodology and results

Purpose of the paper. The purpose of this article is to review the literature on physical activity and its relationship to cardiovascular risk factors and mortality in older adults, in an effort to clarify the specific benefits and optimal level of physical activity for cardiovascular health in the older adult population.

Background/rationale. Despite physical activity being recognized as an important factor in the quality of life of older adults, there is a lack of clarity about the optimal level of physical activity that results in positive cardiovascular health benefits.

Design/methods. An integrative review of the literature using the MEDLINE and CINAHL databases from 1990 through August 2000 was conducted identifying articles related to physical activity and cardiac risk factors, cardiovascular health, or mortality in the older adult.

Results/findings. Forty-four research articles were reviewed. The intervention studies generally provided support for positive cardiovascular changes with exercise, but the results were inconsistent, sample sizes were small, and the outcomes, interventions, and measures of physical activity differed between studies. There was wide variation in the method of measurement of physical activity in the studies. Studies showed an increase in mortality in those who had a sedentary lifestyle compared to those who were more physically active. Results were mixed related to plasma lipids levels. Three studies showed a positive effect of physical activity on blood pressure (BP), while three studies showed no relationship. Each of the studies that evaluated the relationship between physical activity and pulse rate showed a decreased rate with increased physical activity.

Conclusions. The quantity and type of physical activity that should be recommended to bring about positive effects on cardiovascular health and mortality is unclear. There is support, however, that an active lifestyle decreases mortality. There is conflicting evidence to support positive effects of physical activity on cardiac risk factors. Further research is needed with larger sample sizes, better control of extraneous variables, and using measurements of physical activity that have undergone adequate psychometric testing.