Seniors can reduce their risk of heart failure by half with some simple and easy changes to their lifestyle, a new study suggests.

The changes centered around health habits such as moderate activity like brisk walking during free time, being sensible in consuming alcohol, avoiding smoking and taking measures to avoid obesity can cut risks of heart failure — common in older people — in half, say researchers at Tufts University in Boston.

"A person aged 55 has a one-in-three chance of developing heart failure in his lifetime," says study author Liana Del Gobbo, a doctoral student at Tufts.

Heart failure, in which the heart fails to pump sufficient blood and oxygen to satisfy the body's needs, is the main cause of hospitalization of people who are covered by Medicare, researchers point out, making any measures to reduce the risks attractive.

"Older adults can make simple changes to reduce their heart failure risk, such as not smoking, engaging in moderate physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight," Del Gobbo says.

To study heart failure risk factors and identify ways of reducing such risks, the researchers spent 22 years following around 4,000 people 65 and above, who entered into the study during the late 1980s through the early 1990s.

They recorded details on diet, amount of exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking habits and weight.

What they found, they said, showed that even moderate changes in lifestyle or habits could have a significant impact.

"Physical activity among older adults does not have to be strenuous to achieve health benefits," Del Gobbo says. "We saw benefits for adults who walked at a moderate or brisk pace and burned calories through leisure activity, like house or yard work, walking, engaging in outdoor activities, or other forms of physical activity, equivalent to about 30 minutes per day."

Since the researchers could not determine how active the study enrolees may or may not have been before age 65, it is unclear how healthy lifestyle habits in younger years might affect their level of heart failure risk.

Still, the study yields "strong and plausible" indications healthy habits can reduce the risk of heart failure, Dr. David Maron, head of preventive cardiology at the School of Medicine at Stanford University, wrote in a commentary published with the study.

"A healthy lifestyle may not only help you reach an old age," he wrote, "it may help you avoid heart failure when you get there."

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