Staying Fit to Stay Heart-Healthy

Artherosclerosis risk factors in teens are lower in those with better physical fitness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) One part of keeping your heart healthy is keeping your arteries healthy. One thing that may help keep your arteries healthy is staying physically fit, even when you're still a teenager.

A recent study found that teens who were more physically fit had less thickening in their arteries than less physically fit teens.

Slight thickening of the arteries can be a risk for more long-term thickening that can put your heart at risk.

Regular exercise each day is one way to maintain good physical fitness.

"Exercise daily."

The study was led by Katja Pahkala, PhD, of the Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine at the Turku University Hospital in Finland.

The researchers gathered data on two heart-related measurements of 17-year-olds that provided clinicians with an idea of those teens' risk of developing atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is a thickening of the arteries from the build up of cholesterol and other fats.

The two measurements the researchers took were called the "vascular intima-media thickness" and "elasticity."

The researchers gathered data from 341 teens from the aortic artery and from 355 teens from the carotid artery.

The aorta is the largest artery in the heart, which comes out of the left ventricle chamber of the heart. The carotid is another major artery in a person's neck that provides blood to the head and neck.

The researchers also gathered information on the teens' fitness using an assessment where they measure the oxygen the teens use during a cycling test.

The researchers compared the artery measurements with the teens' fitness and made adjustments to take into account differences in the teens' gender, physical activity, cholesterol count, triglycerides, weight and systolic (top number) blood pressure.

They also took into account whether the teens smoked, whether they appeared to have symptoms of insulin resistance (a condition that can lead to diabetes) and their measurements of a protein (C-reactive) that can indicate inflammation.

The researchers found that teens were less likely to be in the lowest tenth percentile for elasticity in their aortic artery if they had a better fitness measurement.

Elasticity in an artery indicates its ability to be stretched or to increase as necessary to accommodate blood flow.

Elasticity lets arteries deal better with stress on the artery walls. An artery is more likely to become damaged if it has poor elasticity.

Teens with better fitness scores were almost twice as likely to be above the tenth percentile for elasticity.

When the researchers compared the teens with the best fitness scores to the teens with the lowest fitness scores, they found that the increase in the thickness of the aortic artery walls was smaller in the teens who had better fitness.

The researchers did not find any differences between the two groups in carotid artery wall thickness or elasticity.

"These data suggest that fitness in part enhances vascular health in healthy adolescents," the researchers concluded.

In other words, having better fitness appears to improve the cardiovascular, or heart, health of teens.

"Studies like this are extremely important," said Jack Newman, CEO of Austin Tennis Academy and a dailyRx expert. "The obesity level of us adults and teenagers continues to grow."

Newman noted that tennis is a great activity that can lead to a lifetime of being physically fit.

"Getting young people involved in lifetime sports like tennis is one of the goals of the Austin Tennis Academy.  We have been in the junior tennis business for 30 years and are seeing many of our alumni continue to stay fit by playing tennis into their adult lives," Newman said.

"Starting young people with a healthy life style will reap great benefits when those same adults lead healthy lives," he said.

The study was published June 10 in the journal Pediatrics.

The research was funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, the Juho Vainio Foundation, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Finnish Cardiac Research Foundation, the Academy of Finland, the Sigrid Juselius Foundation, the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation, the Turku University Foundation and Special Governmental Grants for Health Sciences Research at Turku University Hospital. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 8, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013