Cutting Calories for a Healthy Heart

Calorie restriction and heart health may be integrated

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

(RxWiki News) Does calorie count, not just overall fitness have an effect on how the heart ages?

A new study out of Washington University School of Medicine showed that people who maintained a low calorie diet over a long period of time had hearts that appeared to perform comparable to those of much younger people.

"Eat a healthy diet and exercise often for long-term health."

The study examined 22 people between the ages of 35 and 82 (with a mean age of 51) who had been restricting their calorie intake for an average of seven years. This caloric restriction consisted of a healthy diet, but with 30% less calories than the average Western diet.

These subjects were compared with a control group of 20 people with typical Western diets, matched for age.

Researchers found that in the caloric restriction group, heart rate was significantly lower and the subjects were leaner than their Western diet counterparts.

Furthermore, this group had greater heart rate variability, a measurement of the organ’s ability to cope with stress, activity, sleep and other functions that effect the regulation of blood flow.

According to researcher Phyllis Stein, Ph.D., "Higher heart rate variability means the heart can adjust to changing needs more readily. It declines with age as our cardiovascular systems become less flexible, and poor heart rate variability is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular death."

The authors found that the heart rate variability of the calorie restricting groups was "comparable with published norms for healthy individuals 20 years younger.”

Stein does warn that a number of factors may be at play here. “People who practice calorie restriction tend to be very healthy in other areas of life, too. These people are very motivated, and they tend to engage in a large number of very healthy behaviors."

Jim Crowell, athletic training expert and owner of Integrated Fitness, sees the benefits of calorie restriction and told dailyRx he believes “the key is to maximize quality calories such as lean protein, vegetables and fruits and good fats while minimizing poor calories.”

Crowell suggests that people manage both the amount and quality of calories consumed in order to achieve long-term health. 

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Review Date: 
June 17, 2012
Last Updated:
June 19, 2012