Maximum Wellness, Episode 57: Cardiorespiratory Fitness & Muscular Strength Reduce Risk of Arterial Stiffness

In the Covid-19 world, research shows that being older—over 65—with hypertension—high blood pressure—increases the risk of complications associated with this SARS-2 virus. In addition to older age, another associated-risk of hypertension has to do with arterial stiffness (AS)—which represents a decrease in the compliance of large, central arteries.

According to research—Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Muscular Strength on Arterial Stiffness in Older Adults—which appears in the August 2020 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, “arterial stiffness is an emerging strong and independent predictor of cardiovascular disease.”

In addition, “arterial stiffness also strengthens CVD (cardiovascular disease) risk prediction, when added to traditional risk factors, such as blood pressure, and may provide unique predictive insight that is undetected by traditional risk factors.” The study authors, from the Department of Kinesiology at Iowa State University, comment that higher levels of fitness—cardiorespiratory (CRF) and maximum strength (MS)–are associated with lower AS in older adults. Aerobic and resistance exercise have been shown to improve traditional CVD risk factors—along with numerous other conditions related to advanced vascular aging, such as AS.

“Higher levels of CRF, which is often used to represent recent aerobic exercise participation, are consistently associated with reduced AS in populations generally predisposed to high AS, including older adults,” note the Iowa researchers.

Yet, most of the research on the benefits of AS and MS have been performed on a younger study population. As such, the Iowa investigators sought to investigate the independent and combined associations of CRF and MS with AS in older adults -using data from the Physical Activity and Aging Study (PAAS)–an ongoing prospective, observational cohort study of older adults (497 men and women) at least 65 years of age.

It was speculated that higher CRF would be associated with lower AS, independent of MS, while MS would be associated with lower AS, independent of CRF- with the combined association of CRF and MS being stronger than either CRF or MS alone.

After appropriate exclusion criteria, 405 of the PAAS older adults–with a mean age between 66 to 78—were assessed over two visits with a medical history questionnaire, pulse wave velocity, mean arterial pressure, height, weight, body mass index, blood lipid panel, cardiorespiratory fitness—400-meter walking test, and strength—hand grip strength.

It was determined that both CRF and MS were independently associated with reduced odds of having high AS in older adults. Additionally, “a joint analysis revealed that the relative contribution of CRF and MS appears to be similar, when directly comparing the “fit and weak” group with the “unfit and strong” group.”

The research demonstrated that the “fit and strong” group showed the lowest incidence of having high AS–suggesting a possible additive benefit of being both fit and strong on AS. As noted, further research is necessary to gain a better understanding of how CRF and MS can reduce risk of age-associated health complications.

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