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Blog: Exercising regularly ‘can keep heart and arteries young’. So what?

News Page 21st May 2018

Research reported by the BBC today compares cardiovascular function in senior citizens (more than 60 years old) finding that exercising regularly ‘can keep heart and arteries young and less stiff as they age.’

Arterial stiffness is important as increasing stiffness of arteries encourages fatty plaque formation in the blood vessels and increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. The study reported that those who have been active for over 25 years have far healthy arteries than those who are sedentary.

This finding is not surprising in itself, but our Sport and Exercise Life Science team blog about why we should still take heed of the results.


Dr Peter Jones, Head of Sport, Exercise and Life Sciences at the University of Northampton comments on the research: “The headline suggests that those who carry out more or higher intensity exercise over a lifetime have better arteries, and therefore have lower heart disease risk, than those who are moderately active.

“However, drilling down into the study detail we see that relatively less frequent exercise (2‐3 sessions perweek) over a lifetime has real benefits compared to no exercise.  Furthermore, peripheral arterial stiffness (i.e. stiffness on arteries in the legs and arms) is unaffected by the dose of exercise.  So, for me the key message is doing some activity makes a big difference when compared to nothing.

“We know in the Northamptonshire and most of the UK only around a third of the population exercise regularly.  So, the key question isn’t ‘how do we get those who exercise to do more?’, the two questions we should ask are ‘how we get those who do nothing to do something, and how do we get people to build activity or exercise it into their lifestyle and maintain it for life?”

These comments are supported by colleague and Health Psychologist Dr Rob Lyon: “Research such as this is undoubtedly important. However, more and more I find myself questioning the utility of such findings in light of the fact that so many people are doing so little exercise at all currently.

“We have never known more about the benefits of exercise. In fact, I’d be surprised to find anyone who hasn’t heard that they stand to gain definite benefits through being more active. But it is quite evident that knowing more about the benefits adds nothing to peoples’ motivation to achieve them. We’re asking people to give up something that is comfortable – inactivity – in favour of something that’s relatively less comfortable – exercise. And promoting the concept of physical activity in terms that do nothing to allay concerns about our potential discomfort is not helpful. Even the term ‘exercise’ has negative connotations for many people.

“The Fitness Industry Association research into health club retention in the early 2000’s identified three groups of people; those visiting a club 4-5 times per week, 2-3 times per week and those visiting 0-1 times per week. As you might imagine, the group most likely to still be members after a year were the 4-5 times a week group.

“The biggest gains for the health club, though, were not in getting people into this group, but in getting the 0-1 times a week group into the 2-3 times a week group, since the 0-1 group represented about 40% of all new members. Yes, even those people fortunate enough to afford a gym membership didn’t visit the club at least once a week in the first three months.

“Our research focus should move away from objective measures of health, toward what moves people by merit of their subjective experiences. Knowing we might live longer because our arteries are healthy is fine, but people are moved by their emotions and by what they enjoy, and exercise is still not marketed as being enjoyable, especially for those who are not doing it.”

Dr Jones concludes: “It’s important that our Sport degree students here at the University of Northampton understand not just the benefits of exercise but how we can change behaviour and keep people active.”

For more about the Sport & Exercise Science course at University of Northampton, see our website.

For more about the Sport Development and Physical Education degree at Northampton, see our website.

For more about our Sport Studies (Joint Hons) degree, see our website here.

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