Exercising and eating a heart-healthful diet are associated with cardiovascular health and healthy aging. However, researchers were curious: Is exercise enough to offset some of the effects of vascular aging – like a narrowing of the arteries? And does obesity mitigate the cardiovascular benefits of exercise? To find answers, they designed a study that assessed how exercise, by itself or paired with daily calorie reductions, affected the flexibility of the arteries of 160 adults with obesity.
As part of the study, researchers recruited adults, ages 65-79, from North Carolina to start a 20-week exercise program. Participants were assigned to one of three groups: exercise alone, which included 30 minutes of walking for four days a week; exercise and cutting 250 calories from their daily diet; or exercise and cutting 600 calories from their daily diet. Then, they measured changes in the thickness and flexibility of the proximal aorta, a main artery that helps the heart circulate blood throughout the body.
They found adults who exercised and made moderate diet changes (cutting 250 calories from their daily diet) saw improvements in arterial flexibility – which supports healthy blood flow. They didn’t see these changes in the other groups even though adults in the more significant calorie restriction arm of the trial had similar results with losing weight and lowering their blood pressure. The authors suspect physiological changes that impact arterial strain may help explain these findings.
The researchers conclude that making moderate dietary changes while starting an exercise program can be safe and effective for older adults with obesity. The study published in Circulation and was supported by the NHLBI and the National Institute on Aging.