Walking aids older women's arterial elasticity, helping heart

With advancing age, large arteries like the aorta and carotid lose their elasticity, making it harder for them to expand and relax with each heart beat. Increase in the stiffness of these arteries can contribute to high blood pressure and enlarging of the heart, both risk factors for heart disease. Impaired elasticity in the carotid artery also can be a factor in postural hypotension, when blood pressure drops precipitously as a person changes body position.

A new study presented at Experimental Biology 2002 meeting in New Orleans on April 22 shows how relatively easy it may be to modify this elasticity problem. Dr. Kerrie Moreau and colleagues from the University of Colorado Human Cardiovascular Research Laboratory studied fourteen healthy but sedentary postmenopausal women (a group for whom cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in this country). The womens average age was 60, plus or minus three years. Walking at a moderate pace for 40 to 45 minutes a day five times a week for twelve weeks was enough to restore elasticity of the carotid artery of the women by 48 percent, to levels similar to those in younger, premenopausal women.

The change in arterial stiffness seen in this study may help explain the recognized favorable benefit to cardiovascular health of regular aerobic exercise, says Dr. Moreau. She says it is significant that her fourteen walkers achieved significant benefit of arterial elasticity without changing any other factors known to influence heart disease, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and body composition. But what pleased us most, she says, was the size of the change relative to the simplicity of the exercise involved and the short time required to see a marked improvement in elasticity. An earlier study by the University of Colorado team had found similar benefits in healthy middle-aged and older men.


Contact: Sarah Goodwin
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

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