Journal scan

Regular lifelong exercise may prevent arterial stiffening

Research shines more light on exercise effects in older people

Research shines more light on exercise effects in older people

Picture: iStock

As we age, arterial walls develop fibrosis and cross-linkage of collagen fibres. The result is that arteries stiffen and, for the central arteries including the aorta, this makes older people more vulnerable to heart disease and increased mortality. It is known that a lifelong vigorous training regimen prevents this stiffening, but this study aimed to investigate the effect of smaller amounts of exercise.

The authors performed a cross-sectional examination of 102 people aged over 60 with a consistently logged lifelong exercise history. Detailed measures of arterial stiffness were collected from all participants, who were then categorised into one of the following groups according to their lifelong exercise history:

  • Sedentary who recorded less than two exercise sessions per week.
  • Casual exercisers who recorded 2-3 sessions per week.
  • Committed exercisers who recorded 4-5 sessions per week.
  • Master exercisers who recorded 6-7 sessions per week.

Results and implications for practice

While 4-5 weekly sessions of exercise were needed to prevent central artery stiffening, 2-3 sessions may prevent stiffening in medium-sized arteries such as the carotid, which supplies the head and neck with oxygenated blood.

Previous research has shown that waiting until 70 is too late to reverse a heart’s ageing, even with a year’s structured cardiovascular training. This research, however, shines more light on the role of exercise in arterial changes. The researchers are developing training programmes for middle-aged men and women to see if the right amount of exercise at the right time can reverse ageing in heart and blood vessels.

Shibata S, Fujimoto N, Hastings J et al (2018) The effect of lifelong exercise frequency on arterial stiffness. The Journal of Physiology. doi: 10.1113/JP275301

Ruth Sander is an independent consultant in care of the older person

This article is for subscribers only