Exercises to increase muscle strength optimizes cardiovascular health through non obvious mechanisms, such as the release of heart-healthy substances by the skeletal muscles, called myokines, or the improvement of the intestinal microbiota, according to a study recently published in Nature Reviews Cardiology.
Understanding the ways in which physical activity influences the different systems and organs of the human body “could lead to new therapeutic strategies to attack the mechanisms of cardiovascular diseases.”
Mikel Izquierdo Redín, professor of the Department of Health Sciences of the Public University of Navarra (UPNA) and researcher of Navarrabiomed (a joint center of biomedical research of the UPNA and the Government of Navarre) has participated in this work.
“The loss of strength and muscle mass is one of the ‘forgotten’ risk factors of cardiovascular disease,” said Izquierdo, also member of the Health Research Institute of Navarra ( IdiSNA ). “However, it can be corrected with a strength training program, even in older people.”
The authors of the article, who belong to institutions of four countries (United States, Spain, Portugal and Sweden), stress that it is time to consider physical exercise as “a medicine in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.”
The researchers also stress that, “unlike most drugs, exercise is largely free of adverse effects, and its benefits are, to a certain degree, dose-dependent.” That is, once the patient is used to it gradually, the doses of activity can be increased.
A little-known potential
However, scientists express their concern: “The tremendous potential of resistance exercise and strength training to reverse both the disease and the effects of aging on muscle mass, and thus improving cardiovascular health, is little recognized in most of clinical treatments.”
Hence, they pose “an integrating vision of cardiovascular diseases in the context of the entire human body.”
The cardiovascular system (heart, blood vessels – arteries, veins and capillaries – and blood) “should not be separated from other organs, such as the aforementioned skeletal muscles or the intestinal microbiota when cardiovascular diseases are addressed,” they defend.
This integrating vision translates into including not only the cardiovascular system, but also “the interaction between the heart and blood vessels with other tissues -including skeletal muscle, adipose tissue and even the intestine- and, moreover, using various approaches: epidemiological, physiological and molecular.”
In his opinion, this integrative perspective “could be of great help for health professionals who do not prescribe physical exercise to their patients“.