Activity Level Determines Heart Health, Not Age

New research shows that activity level, even more than age, may have a direct relationship to the health of our heart. Once again a sedentary lifestyle proves to be deadly.

As both men and women begin to age the arteries in their bodies become susceptible to arterial stiffening. Arterial stiffness occurs as a result of age and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). It happens when the elastic fibers within the arterial wall, known as elastin, begins to wear due to mechanical stress. Two leading causes of death in the developed world are myocardial infarction and stroke, and they are a direct result of atherosclerosis.1 Fortunately, there is some promising research from a study conducted by Indiana University suggesting those who are middle-aged and highly active appear to avoid arterial stiffening.2

The study compared the arterial stiffness of highly active U.S. Master Swimmers to people who reported only being moderately active, or even completely inactive. It consisted of 21 men and 28 women, of which 33 were classified as highly active. Highly active was considered to be more than 200 minutes of vigorous activity a week. The results of the study showed a significant difference between the highly active group and the others, and there was little difference in stiffness within the highly active group in regards to age or sex.3

Joel Stager, professor and director of the Counsilman Center in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation’s Department of Kinesiology stated the results of the study reinforced the idea that activity could be more influential than aging on some health factors.4

Although there was little difference in the arterial stiffness between men and women in the highly active group, Maleah Holland, a graduate student in the Counsilman Center at Indiana University Bloomington, found a significant difference between the men and women in the inactive or moderately active group. Her findings suggested men fared better than women. “Oddly, women, particularly the inactive women, show the greatest risk for cardiovascular disease as compared with other groups,” Holland wrote in her research report. “Thus, conversely, habitually high levels of physical activity may pose a greater benefit for women than for men.” This may have been because the inactive women were even more sedentary than the men classified as inactive.5

No matter who benefits the most, the results of this study show living an active lifestyle that includes a rigorous exercise routine is beneficial to one’s cardiac health. Aging is inevitable, and many people suffer from cardiac disorders. As our world suffers from more and more cardiac-related deaths, we now have another reason why everyone should strive to live a healthy and active lifestyle and become fit. Sometimes exercise is the best medicine, and in the case of maintaining heart health, this may also hold true.6