Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in heart health for older adults with obesity, report researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine. In a press release, the researchers said that two changes brought significant improvement in aortic stiffness, a measure of vascular health:
- Cutting 200 calories a day, plus
- 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise four days a week
The Aorta and Obesity
The aorta, the largest artery in the body, delivers oxygen and vital nutrients from the heart to key organs. As the aorta stiffens in the typical healthy aging process, the heart must work harder to contract and pump blood throughout the body. Besides aging, other factors can increase aortic stiffness: higher body mass index (BMI), higher body weight, total body fat and abdominal fat, and having a larger waist circumference.
Aortic stiffness is a risk factor for cardiovascular events including heart attack and stroke, and even death, said lead study author Tina E. Brinkley, Ph.D., associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Brinkley’s team studied 160 sedentary adults, aged 65 to 79 years, whose BMIs ranged from 30 to 45. The participants were 74% female and 73% white. Each was put into one of three groups: exercise only, exercise plus moderate calorie cuts, or exercise plus more intensive calorie cuts. Everyone in the study received supervised aerobic exercise training four days a week.
After five months, the research team found that only the people in the “exercise plus moderate calorie cuts” group saw improvements in their aortic stiffness. That group had weight loss of about 10% of their total body weight (or about 20 pounds) over the five-month period. None of the aortic stiffness measures changed significantly in either the exercise-only group or the exercise-plus more intensive calorie cuts group.
In addition, people in both of the calorie-restricted groups experienced changes in their BMI, total fat mass, percent body fat, abdominal fat and waist circumference. Weight loss was similar in the two calorie-restricted groups. However, the group with the more restrictive diet did not show any improvements in aortic stiffness even though it had similar decreases in weight and blood pressure as the moderately restrictive group.
“Our findings indicate that these moderate lifestyle changes may help reduce aortic stiffness and improve overall vascular health in older adults,” Brinkley said. “These relatively small changes should be manageable for people and more sustainable over the long term.”
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise or weight loss program.