According to new research published by The Physiological Society, exercising four to five times a week can make a big difference in cardiovascular health by slowing down the stiffening of large central arteries.
As we age, our arteries become narrowed and hardened. While this is common among older adults, there are many factors that can speed up the process such as an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking.
The hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. The World Heart Association reports that, of the 17.3 million deaths from cardiovascular disease each year, 80 percent of these fatalities are preventable.
Previous studies have demonstrated that any form of exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, but the current research is the first to show that different sizes of arteries are affected differently by varying amounts of exercise.
The investigation was focused on 102 adults over the age of 60 who had a lifelong history of consistently logged exercise. The researchers analyzed the level of arterial stiffness among the individuals.
Participants were classified into four groups including sedentary, casual exercisers, committed exercisers, and athletes. These categories ranged from less than two 30-minute exercise sessions per week to six or seven sessions per week.
The researchers found that a lifelong history of casual exercise, or two to three sessions per week, led to more youthful middle-sized arteries, which are those that supply oxygenated blood to the head and neck.
Furthermore, participants who exercised four to five times per week also had more youthful large central arteries, which provide blood to the chest and abdomen.
The results of the study will help in the development of long-term exercise programs to help slow the aging of the heart and arteries.
“This work is really exciting because it enables us to develop exercise programs to keep the heart youthful and even turn back time on older hearts and blood vessels,” said study co-author Benjamin Levine.
“Previous work by our group has shown that waiting until 70 is too late to reverse a heart’s aging, as it is difficult to change cardiovascular structure even with a year of training.”
“Our current work is focusing on two years of training in middle-aged men and women, with and without risk factors for heart diseases, to see if we can reverse the aging of a heart and blood vessels by using the right amount of exercise at the right time.”
The study is published in The Journal of Physiology.