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Physical Activity May Help Outweigh Impact of Obesity on Cardiovascular Disease

Physical Activity May Help Outweigh Impact of Obesity on Cardiovascular Disease

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  • Being overweight and obese increases risk of cardiovascular disease and physical activity lowers that risk.
  • Recent findings suggest that regardless of the weight and age of the individual, physical activity offers protection against cardiovascular disease.
  • Overweight and obese people without adequate physical activity face increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Therefore, physical activity plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of middle age and elderly people.

The benefits of physical activity may outweigh the impact of overweight and obesity on cardiovascular disease in middle-aged and elderly people.

"Overweight and obesity is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and it is recommended to lose weight," said author Dr Klodian Dhana, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. "But in the elderly this is slightly different because weight loss, especially unintentional, is associated with muscle loss and death."


"Physical activity is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of age," he continued. "We investigated the combined impact of body mass index (BMI) and physical activity on cardiovascular disease in the middle age to elderly population."

European guidelines recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.


The observational study included 5,344 individuals aged 55 to 97 years of age (average 70 years) who participated in the Rotterdam Study and were free of cardiovascular disease at the time of enrollment.

Information about BMI, physical activity, smoking, alcohol use, diet, education, and family history of premature heart attack was collected during the enrollment period in 1997 to 2001.

Participants were categorized according to BMI: normal weight (18.5-24.9 kg/m2), overweight (25-29.9 kg/m2) and obese (>30 kg/m2); and physical activity (low/high) which was below and above the median.

The group was followed-up for 15 years from 1997 to 2012 for cardiovascular events (heart attack and stroke).

During the follow-up, 16% of participants had a cardiovascular event and on analysis it was revealed that physical activity was associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of BMI category.

There was no association between BMI alone and cardiovascular disease.

"In the overall population we found that physical activity was protective for cardiovascular risk," said Dr Dhana.

"Overweight and obese participants were not at increased cardiovascular risk compared to those of normal weight. We do not refute the risk associated with obesity in the general population even though we did not find it in this older group. BMI may not be the best way to measure adiposity risk in the elderly." Dr Dhana added.

Combined Effect of Physical Activity and BMI

The researchers analyzed the combined effect of physical activity and BMI.

Compared to normal weight people with high physical activity levels overweight or obese individuals with high levels of physical activity were not at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

But overweight or obese people with low levels of physical activity had 1.33 and 1.35 times higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease, respectively.

"Our results show that physical activity plays a crucial role in the health of middle age to elderly people," said Dr Dhana. "Those who are overweight and obese without adequate physical activity are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease."

Overweight and obesity accelerates the atherosclerotic process by exerting harmful effects on adipose tissue and increases cardiovascular risk.

Physical activity lowers the harmful effects of atherosclerosis by reducing the plaque formation on blood vessels and reducing the heart's oxygen demand.

"People who engage in high levels of physical activity are protected from the harmful effects of adipose tissue on cardiovascular disease," said Dr Dhana. "This may be why we found that the beneficial impact of physical activity on cardiovascular disease outweighs the negative impact of BMI."

"Any physical activity is positive for cardiovascular health and in elderly people of all weights walking, biking and housework are good ways to keep moving," said Dr Dhana.

The findings are published in European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.


  1. Klodian Dhana et al. Impact of physical activity on the association of overweight and obesity with cardiovascular disease:. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology; (2017) DOI: 10.1177/2047487317693952

Source: Medindia

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