Exercise Could Be Fountain of Youth for Blood Vessels
WebMD News Archive
More and more, scientists are learning that regular activity may be able to
turn back the clock. A new study conducted in Italy suggests that people over
age 60 who exercise consistently have blood vessels resembling those of people
less than half their age. This can drastically reduce the risk of heart attacks
and strokes and is part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that exercise
can slow the effects of aging. So if you're looking for the fountain of youth,
think about diving into an exercise program.
Stefano Taddei, MD, and his colleagues at the University of Pisa found that
regular physical activity seems to maintain healthy blood vessels, at least in
part, by maintaining proper function of the thin layer of cells that lines the
inside of each vessel. This layer produces a substance that helps the blood
vessels open when more blood flow is needed. This substance also seems to
protect the vessels from developing atherosclerosis -- also known as hardening
of the arteries -- and abnormal blood clots.
In the study, investigators compared blood flow in young athletes with an
average age of 27 to that of older athletes with an average age of 65. Both
groups mostly participated in running, cycling, and triathlons, but the
researchers also included some couch potatoes in each group for comparison.
The authors found that both groups of younger people and the older
athletes responded similarly when given a drug to increase blood flow -- their
blood flow increased. However, the older, nonathletic group did not have an
increase in blood flow.
The scientists conclude their results confirm previous findings that age and
damaged blood-vessel linings often go hand in hand. The results also
demonstrate that physical activity can prevent this problem.
"This is a well-done, well-controlled study with a good message,"
says heart specialist Gerald Fletcher, MD, a spokesman for the American Heart
Association. "It just goes to show the benefits of exercise." Fletcher,
who was not involved in the study, tells WebMD that individuals who start
exercising at age 60 can improve their blood-vessel function by 25% within just
a few months.
The exercise should be predominantly aerobic, which gets the heart pumping,
for people to reap the full benefits for the heart. But resistance exercise,
such as lifting weights, also may have some benefit. Fletcher says exercising
30 minutes a day, six days week is "ideal."
"Heart disease can be prevented," and exercise is the best tool we
have to reduce risk, says Fletcher, who teaches at the Mayo Medical School in