(RxWiki News) Maintaining a high level of fitness into middle age does more than promote overall cardiovascular health. It also appears to protect blood vessels from hardening typically associated with age or plaque build up.
Researchers found that highly active individuals avoided arterial stiffening, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, that also can be brought on by inactivity.
"Keep active to protect blood vessels."
Joel Stager, PhD, professor and director of the Counsilman Center in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation's Department of Kinesiology at Indiana University Bloomington, said the finding reinforces the idea that activity could be more influential than aging on some health factors.
During the study researchers followed 21 men and 28 women. Of those middle-aged participants, 33 were highly active U.S. Master Swimmers who engaged in more than 200 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. In comparison, joggers were considered to engage in a moderate level of exercise.
Participants who were not highly active swimmers ranged from moderately active to inactive.
Researchers found that the difference in arterial stiffness between those who were moderately active and those engaging in a high level of activity was significant. Among those who were highly active, there was little difference in artery stiffness regardless of age or gender.
However, among participants who were sedentary or participated in moderate exercise, men were found to fare better than women when it came to added blood vessel protection.
"Oddly, women, particularly the inactive women, show the greatest risk for cardiovascular disease as compared with other groups," said Maleah Holland, a graduate student in the Counsilman Center at Indiana University Bloomington, who co-authored the study.
"Thus, conversely, habitually high levels of physical activity may pose a greater benefit for women than for men."
Holland said this could be because inactive women who participated in the study were more sedentary than the inactive men included in the research. Additional studies will be needed to confirm the findings.
The study was presented today at the American College of Sports Medicine's 59th annual meeting.