According to their findings, there are two key factors that can improve heart health and lead to weight loss: cutting calorie consumption by 250 calories each day and making aerobic exercise a regular part of their routine.
“This is the first study to assess the effects of aerobic exercise training with and without reducing calories on aortic stiffness, which was measured via cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging (CMR) to obtain detailed images of the aorta,” said researcher Tina E. Brinkley, Ph.D. “We sought to determine whether adding caloric restriction for weight loss would lead to greater improvements in vascular health compared to aerobic exercise alone in older adults with obesity.”
Improving heart health
For the study, the researchers had 160 older adults with inactive lifestyles join one of three different exercise-based intervention groups for 20 weeks. The first group stuck to their regular diet and incorporated moderate exercise, the second group restricted their daily food intake by 250 calories and added in exercise, and the third group cut their calorie intake by 600 calories each day and exercised. The researchers were primarily interested in seeing how these trials impacted the participants’ aortic stiffness, which is a significant indicator of future cardiovascular disease or episodes.
The study showed that the group with the mild calorie restriction and aerobic exercise had the best heart health and overall health outcomes. The participants in the second group saw a significant amount of weight loss and also improvements to their heart health; this group experienced an 8% decrease in the speed that blood flows through the aorta and a 20% decrease in overall aortic stiffness.
The researchers were also surprised to learn that the participants in both calorie-restricting groups had similar weight loss totals by the end of the study, but only the participants in the mild calorie restriction group experienced the heart health benefits.
“These results suggest that combining exercise with modest calorie restriction -- as opposed to more intensive calorie restriction -- likely maximizes the benefits on vascular health, while also optimizing weight loss and improvements in body composition and fat distribution,” said Dr. Brinkley. “The finding that higher-intensity calorie restriction may not be necessary or advised has important implications for weight loss recommendations to improve cardiovascular disease risk in older adults with obesity.”