AUG 16, 2018 8:15 AM PDT

Get Physical for Heart Health

WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Williams

Over 43.7 million Americans over the age of 60 have one or more types of cardiovascular disease making up almost 50% of American Adults that have cardiovascular disease. About two-thirds of all cardiovascular-related deaths are in those 75 and older, with it being the leading cause of death in women age 65 or over. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association investigated how physical activity related to cardiovascular disease in individuals aged 60 to 64.

Cardiovascular disease, also referred to as heart disease, encompasses a range of conditions that affect the heart from blood vessel diseases to coronary artery disease and arrhythmias. In general, it refers to conditions that involve the narrowing or blocking of vessels that can lead to severe conditions such as heart or stroke or those that affect the heart’s muscles, valves or rhythm. There are many risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as age, sex, smoking, diet, and stress. Physical inactivity is also a well-known risk factor; regular physical activity has anti-inflammatory effects that have a protective effect when it comes to cardiovascular disease. However, few studies have looked at the relationship between physical activity intensity and various cardiovascular disease biomarkers.

In the elderly, cardiovascular risk is high and understanding how activity may influence risk in this age group can help promote a heart-healthy lifestyle. Dr. Ahmen Elhakeem, study author and senior research associate at Bristol Medical School at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, led a recent study to analyze participant’s blood levels for markers of cardiovascular disease. Over 1,600 British volunteers, age 60 to 64, wore heart rate and movement sensors for five days to measure their overall physical activity. The measurement included light physical activity, such as slow walking, gardening, and golfing as well as a vigorous activity like bicycling, dancing, tennis, or lawn mowing. They looked for inflammatory markers including interleukin 6, tissue-plasminogen activator, endothelial markers, molecule E-selectin, and cholesterol markers leptin and adiponectin.

The study showed overall that adults in their early 60s who spent more time engaged in light to vigorous physical activity, as opposed to sedentary activities, had healthier levels of heart and blood vessel disease markers. Adding 10 minutes of moderate exercise lowered leptin levels 3.7% in men and 6.6% in women. Additional light intensity activity showed lower tissue-plasminogen activator levels and reduced interleukin 6 levels. Total activity appeared to relate to biomarkers independent of cardiorespiratory fitness. The study did not establish if activity influences the biomarkers, or if the biomarkers influenced the activity.

These results indicate that physical activity might lower cardiovascular disease risk by improving blood vessel function, while a sedentary lifestyle may adversely affect endothelial function. In a population that is undergoing lifestyle transitions from work to retirement, it is an opportunity to promote increased physical activity habits. The American Heart Association suggests 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, as well as muscle strengthening, exercises two or more days, to improve overall cardiovascular health.

To learn more about cardiovascular disease watch the video below!

Sources: Journal of the American Heart AssociationMayo Clinic, American Heart Association

About the Author
  • Caitlin holds a doctorate degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia where she studied Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its glycan receptors. She received her Bachelor's in Biology from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!). She has a passion for science communication and STEM education with a goal to improve science literacy. She enjoys topics related to human health, with a particular soft spot for pathogens.
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