HEART
January 23, 2008

Eat Less Or Exercise More?

Eating a little less and exercising a little more both improve the elasticity of heart tissue.
It is no secret that losing weight is good for your heart and overall health. What many people may not know is that you do not have to lose dramatic amounts of weight or become a marathon runner to get results.

Overweight people who lose even a little weight see an immediate benefit in the form of better heart health, according to a study conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. And the heart is not picky - it responds to weight loss whether it comes from eating less or exercising more.

And the heart is not picky − it responds to weight loss whether it comes from eating less or exercising more.

"If individuals want to do something that's good for their heart, then my message to them is lose weight by the method they find most tolerable," says the study's senior author Sándor J. Kovács, Ph.D, M.D., director of Washington University's Cardiovascular Biophysics Laboratory. "They're virtually guaranteed that it will have a salutary effect on their cardiovascular system."

The study focused on healthy, overweight but not obese, middle-aged men and women. Researchers found that a yearlong program of either calorie restriction or increased exercise increase meant a significant improvement in heart function. The findings were published in the December 27 issue of the American Journal of Physiology.

"As we get older, our tissues become more fibrotic as collagen fibers accumulate," says study co-author John O. Holloszy, M.D., professor of medicine in the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science. "So the arteries and heart muscle stiffen, and the heart doesn't relax as well after contracting.

The scientists used ultrasound imaging (echocardiography) to measure the diastolic or filling phase of the cardiac cycle because it is a crucial indicator of heart health.

By the end of the yearlong study, both the "eat less" and the "exercise more" groups lost 12 percent of their weight. In both groups, participants' hearts also showed gain in the ability to relax more quickly, recovering some of the elasticity of younger heart tissue.

The study offers encouragement for those who are overweight. As Kovács says, "One reason that it's hard to get people to change their behavior and lose weight is that we warn them about consequences of being overweight that might occur sometime in the future — we say if your BMI is too high, eventually you'll develop heart disease, diabetes or hypertension. But now we can tell them, lose weight and right away you can have better cardiovascular health."
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