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Exercise reduces stress and lowers heart disease risk, study finds

New study findings suggest that engaging in physical activity can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
New study findings suggest that engaging in physical activity can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)


New study findings suggest that engaging in physical activity can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by mitigating stress-related signaling in the brain.


Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a key member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, led the investigation, with their results published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.


 
 

The study reveals that individuals with stress-related conditions like depression may experience the most significant cardiovascular benefits from physical activity.


Central illustration defining study parameters.
Central illustration defining study parameters. (CREDIT: American College of Cardiology)


To delve into the mechanisms behind the psychological and cardiovascular advantages of physical activity, Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, a cardiologist and researcher at MGH's Cardiovascular Imaging Research Center, along with his team, scrutinized medical records and data from 50,359 participants in the Mass General Brigham Biobank who completed a physical activity survey.


 
 

Additionally, a subgroup of 774 participants underwent brain imaging tests and stress-related brain activity measurements.


Over a median follow-up period of 10 years, approximately 12.9% of participants developed cardiovascular disease.


 

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Comparing those who met physical activity recommendations with those who did not, the researchers found that the former group had a 23% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.


Further analysis revealed a correlation between higher levels of physical activity and lower stress-related brain activity.


 
 

Specifically, reductions in stress-associated brain activity were linked to improved function in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in executive functions such as decision-making and impulse control, known for its role in modulating stress responses. These findings were adjusted to accommodate other lifestyle factors and coronary disease risk factors.


Physical activity, Stress-related neural activity.
Physical activity, Stress-related neural activity. (CREDIT: American College of Cardiology)


Moreover, the study found that reductions in stress-related brain signaling contributed partially to the cardiovascular benefits of physical activity.


 
 

Particularly noteworthy was the discovery that the cardiovascular benefits of exercise were significantly more pronounced in participants with higher stress-related brain activity, such as those with pre-existing depression.


Physical activity reduces CVD risk to a greater degree in those with higher AmygAc.
Physical activity reduces CVD risk to a greater degree in those with higher AmygAc. (CREDIT: American College of Cardiology)


Dr. Tawakol, the senior author of the study, emphasized, "Physical activity was roughly twice as effective in lowering cardiovascular disease risk among those with depression. Effects on the brain’s stress-related activity may explain this novel observation."


 
 

He also highlighted the need for prospective studies to identify potential mediators and establish causality. Meanwhile, he suggested that clinicians inform patients about the significant brain effects of physical activity, which may confer greater cardiovascular benefits, especially among individuals with stress-related conditions like depression.






For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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