Endurance exercise can affect the largest arteries in men and women in different ways

Summary: The vascular age of male athletes participating in endurance training is 10 years older than the chronological age. Female athletes showed a general difference between vascular and chronological age.

A source: UCL

According to a new study led by UCL researchers, older male athletes are more likely to suffer from heart and circulatory disorders than female competitors of similar age.

A study presented at a conference of the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) in Manchester showed that the aorta in older male athletes is stiffer.

It found that the vascular age of the aorta in male athletes was almost 10 years older than the chronological age, and that female athletes did not show an overall age difference.

However, experts say that research should not stop people from exercising, as additional research is needed to understand the biological causes of these differences. They also encouraged that regular, moderate-intensity exercise is good for heart health.

Researchers at UCL, the Barts Heart Center at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and St. George’s Hospital studied more than 300 “master” athletes over the age of 40, who participated in more than 10 endurance competitions and exercised regularly for at least 10 years.

Half of the athletes were men and half were women. The cohort consisted mainly of long-distance runners, but also cyclists, swimmers, and rowers.

MRI scans of the heart were used to study the hardness of the athlete’s aorta, the largest artery in the human body, which carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body and the brain.

Researchers in this group have previously developed a method of calculating the age of veins, which assessed the age of the veins based on their hardness. Harder arteries are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in non-athletes, such as heart attacks and strokes, but the effects on athletes’ cardiovascular health are unknown.

The team found that the aorta of older male athletes was stiffer and averaged 9.6 years older than the chronological age. However, for female athletes, the vascular age of their aorta was the same as their chronological age.

They also studied the vascular age of different sections of the aorta. Researchers have found the biggest difference in the descending aorta, the part of the aorta that passes through the chest. For male athletes, this was an average of 15 years older than their chronological age. And for female athletes, it was on average six years younger.

Although research has not been able to determine why this is the case, it suggests that long-term endurance exercise may have a different effect on men and women.

Dr. Rebecca Hughes (UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science and Barts Heart Center), who led the study, said “previous studies on long-term endurance exercise have focused on men, so there is little research on how it affects female athletes.”

“Our research shows that in master athletes, the aorta is often harder in men, so their vascular age is older. For women, however, we found a surprisingly contradictory finding that some parts of their aorta were several years younger than their chronological age.

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This shows that the woman is running
It found that the vascular age of the aorta in male athletes was almost 10 years older than the chronological age, and that female athletes did not show an overall age difference. Image in public domain

“In non-athletes, hardening of the aorta is associated with heart and circulatory disorders. It is not yet fully understood how this finding relates to the potential risks of athletes, so more work is needed to help determine who may be at greater risk.

Professor James Laiper, Deputy Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “Athletes who exercise with endurance need to work harder to pump blood to the body, and studies show that in some cases this can lead to changes in the heart.”

“This new discovery shows the effects on the main blood vessels in the body and how it differs between men and women.

“Now, to determine the cause of hardening of the arteries in male athletes and to assess its impact on other areas of the cardiovascular system, we will need additional research until we come to a complete conclusion.”

“It should be noted that exercise helps reduce the risk of heart and circulatory diseases, control weight and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Its benefits far outweigh the potential risks, so it is generally advisable to continue moderate-intensity exercise on a regular basis.

It’s about exercise and cardiovascular health research reports

Author: Chris Lane
A source: UCL
The connection: Chris Lane – UCL
Photo: Image in public domain

Original study: The results will be presented at a conference of the British Cardiovascular Society

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