LAS VEGAS - A 20-year study by UNLV researchers on the effects of exercise on aging found that a long-term commitment to regular exercise significantly reduces the risk of coronary heart disease in middle-aged and older men.
Researchers examined cholesterol and triglyceride levels - factors closely associated with coronary heart disease - of 20 previously sedentary men who participated in an on-campus exercise program four days per week for 20 consecutive years. The most significant changes occurred during the first year, but improvements throughout the two-decade study lead researchers to believe that exercise - especially when sustained over time - may be the driving force behind healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
"Our study shows that regular, continuous physical activity throughout the lifespan may reverse the undesirable effects of aging on coronary heart disease indicators," said Larry Golding, study co-author and UNLV distinguished professor of kinesiology. "In fact, overall indicators of participants after 20 years were comparable or better than those of elite young male runners."
Research linking exercise to better cholesterol is extensive, yet few studies have addressed the effects of long-term exercise in reducing heart disease risk. Among the findings:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, dropped significantly throughout the study; 27 percent after first year, 60 percent over 20 years
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, improved significantly throughout the first 15 years of the study, with 60 percent increase after first year
- Total cholesterol (combination of LDL, HDL and other lipid components) dropped nearly 18 percent after year one; 40 percent over 20 years
- Triglyceride levels decreased each year of the exercise program; 23 percent after first year, 61 percent over 20 years
Participants in the exercise program had no history of coronary heart disease and were between the ages of 30 and 51 when the study began. Blood tests were conducted at the end of each year, from which the statistics were generated.
A certified exercise physiologist on UNLV's campus carried out supervised instruction roughly four times per week. Each session consisted of 45 minutes of high intensity strength training, endurance and aerobic exercises. Exercise intensity increased gradually throughout the first year and was maintained at a high level throughout the course of the study.
At the end of the study, participants were placed into two groups according to total weight lost. On average, participants lost 27 pounds; however, differences in weight loss did not affect changes in the indicators measured. Researchers did note that, in general, weight lost from participating in the exercise study might have indirectly caused reductions in LDL and total cholesterol.
The study was published recently by the journal Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. Media interested in obtaining a copy of the publication can contact Tony Allen at (702) 895-0893 or Tony.Allen@unlv.edu.