Nav: Home

Is physical activity always good for the heart?

November 04, 2019

Physical activity is thought to be our greatest ally in the fight against cardiovascular disease. But there may be significant variations in its protective effects across a range of different situations, such as regularly playing a sport, carrying heavy loads at work, or going for a walk with friends. These are the findings of a new study led by Inserm researcher Jean-Philippe Empana (U970 PARCC, Inserm/Université de Paris) in collaboration with Australian researchers. The results have been published in Hypertension.

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of mortality around the world, and there is no sign that this trend is declining. However, a large number of premature deaths could be prevented by taking appropriate preventive measures. Among these measures, physical activity is often presented as having multiple benefits, and international guidelines emphasize the need to be active in order to avoid cardiovascular mortality.

But physical activity is a broad concept, and few scientific studies have looked into the differences between various types of exercise may have. This was the focus of the new study published in Hypertension, which was conducted by the research teams led by Jean-Philippe Empana, Xavier Jouven, and Pierre Boutouyrie (Inserm/Université de Paris), in collaboration with Rachel Climie at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia.

"Our idea was to look at whether all types of physical activity are beneficial, or whether under some circumstances physical activity can be harmful. We wanted in particular to explore the consequences of physical activity at work, especially strenuous physical activity such as routinely carrying heavy loads, which could have a negative impact", explains Empana.

Sport, work, or leisure

The research by Empana and his colleagues was based on data from participants in the Paris Prospective Study III. For ten years, this extensive French study has been monitoring the health status of over 10,000 volunteers, aged 50 to 75 years old and recruited during a health check-up at the Paris Health Clinic (Paris Preclinical Investigations, IPC).

Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire about the frequency, duration, and intensity of their physical activity in three different contexts: physical activity through sport, physical activity at work (for example carrying heavy loads), and physical activity in their leisure time (such as gardening).

The cardiovascular health of participants was then assessed based on the health of their arteries using cutting-edge ultrasound imaging of the carotid artery (a superficial artery in the neck). This method, known as "echo tracking", can be used to measure baroreflex sensitivity, a mechanism of automatic adaptation to sudden changes in blood pressure. When this system is impaired, this can lead to major health problems, and a higher risk of cardiac arrest.

Studying the arduous nature of work

In their analyses, the researchers distinguished between two components of the baroreflex: mechanical baroreflex, assessed through the measurement of arterial stiffness, and neural baroreflex, assessed through the measurement of nerve impulses sent by the receptors on the walls of the artery, in response to a distension of the vessel. Abnormalities in the mechanical component tend to be associated with aging-related cardiovascular diseases, while abnormalities in the neural component tend to be linked to heart rhythm disorders that can lead to a cardiac arrest.

The study shows that high-intensity sporting physical activity is associated with a better neural baroreflex. Conversely, physical activity at work (such as routinely carrying heavy loads) appears to be more strongly associated with an abnormal neural baroreflex and greater arterial stiffness. Such activity could therefore be harmful for cardiovascular health, and in particular may be associated with heart rhythm disorders. "Our findings represent a valuable avenue of research for improving our understanding of the associations between physical activity and cardiovascular disease. They do not suggest that movement at work is harmful for health, instead they suggest that chronic, strenuous activity (such as lifting heavy loads) at work may be", highlights Empana.

The researchers will attempt to replicate these results in other populations, and explore in greater detail the interactions between physical activity and health. "This study has major public health implications for physical activity at work. We now want to expand our analysis to further explore the interactions between physical activity and the health status of people in the workplace", concludes Empana.
-end-


INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale)

Related Physical Activity Articles:

The benefits of physical activity for older adults
New findings published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports reveal how physically active older adults benefit from reduced risks of early death, breast and prostate cancer, fractures, recurrent falls, functional limitations, cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and depression.
Physical activity may protect against new episodes of depression
Increased levels of physical activity can significantly reduce the odds of depression, even among people who are genetically predisposed to the condition.
Is physical activity always good for the heart?
Physical activity is thought to be our greatest ally in the fight against cardiovascular disease.
Physical activity in lessons improves students' attainment
Students who take part in physical exercises like star jumps or running on the spot during school lessons do better in tests than peers who stick to sedentary learning, according to a UCL-led study.
Physical activity may attenuate menopause-associated atherogenic changes
Leisure-time physical activity is associated with a healthier blood lipid profile in menopausal women, but it doesn't seem to entirely offset the unfavorable lipid profile changes associated with the menopausal transition.
Are US adults meeting physical activity guidelines?
The proportion of US adults adhering to the 'Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans' from the US Department of Health and Human Services didn't significantly improve between 2007 and 2016 but time spent sitting increased.
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds do less vigorous physical activity
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds and certain ethnic minority backgrounds, including from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, have lower levels of vigorous physical activity, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.
Light, physical activity reduces brain aging
Incremental physical activity, even at light intensity, is associated with larger brain volume and healthy brain aging.
Decline in physical activity often starts as early as age 7
Overall physical activity starts to decline already around the age of school entry.
Is it ever too late for adults to benefit from physical activity?
It may never be too late for adults to become physically active and enjoy some health benefits.
More Physical Activity News and Physical Activity Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.