How Physical Activity Is Helpful In Stress Related Brain Activity To Decrease Cardiovascular Disease Risk?

Over a ten-year period study in group of patients performing certain levels of physical activity had a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.Source: Massachusetts General Hospital

A new research indicates that physical activity reduces stress-related signalling in the brain which plays a role in partially lowering the cardiovascular disease risk.

The study, led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that people with stress-related conditions such as depression experience maximum health benefits related to heart and blood vessels problems from physical activity.1

To evaluate the mechanisms underlying the psychological and cardiovascular disease benefits of physical activity, Ahmed Tawakol, MD, an investigator and cardiologist in the Cardiovascular Imaging Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, and his colleagues analyzed medical records and other information of 50,359 participants from the Mass General Brigham Biobank who completed a physical activity survey.

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A subset of 774 participants also underwent brain imaging tests and measurements of stress-related brain activity. After a follow-up of 10 years, 12.9% of participants developed cardiovascular disease.

Participants with a recommended level of physical activity re had a 23% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared with those not meeting these recommendations.

Individuals with higher physical activity levels also had lower stress-related brain activity.

Notably, reductions in stress-associated brain activity were due to improved function of a part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) involved in decision-making and impulse control and known to restrain stress centres of the brain.

Analyses accounted for other lifestyle variables and risk factors for coronary disease.

As an extension of this finding, the researchers found in another 50,359 participants that the cardiovascular benefit of exercise was substantially more significant among participants who would be expected to have higher stress-related brain activity, such as those with pre-existing depression.

Tawakol, the study’s senior author, says, “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. However, prospective studies are needed to identify potential mediators and prove causality. In the meantime, the fact has established that physical activity may have essential brain effects, which may impart more excellent cardiovascular benefits among individuals with stress-related syndromes such as depression.



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