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Regular exercise may be more beneficial for men than post-menopausal women

The blood vessels of middle-aged men and women adapt differently to regular exercise according to new research by Loughborough University.

Led and supervised by Dr Emma O’Donnell from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, the project is supported by PhD student Jen Craig. The research conducted for the British Heart Foundation examined the effects of regular exercise training on the blood vessels of 12 men and post-menopausal women.

Blood pressure and arterial stiffness were assessed before and one hour after a brisk walk. 

Their preliminary findings suggest that arterial stiffness, an independent risk factor for heart disease, is higher in women compared with age-matched men.  A single bout of brisk walking improved arterial stiffness and blood pressure in both groups, however, arterial stiffness remained higher in women. 

Interestingly, the improvements in arterial stiffness were related to changes in blood pressure in men only, suggesting possible sex-differences in how the blood vessels adapt and respond to exercise.

Research has shown that regular physical activity helps reduce the stiffening of the arteries, which in turn lowers a person’s risk of developing heart or circulatory disease. However, the blood vessels of men and women appear to adapt differently to regular exercise, with post-menopausal women demonstrating less exercise-associated benefits than men. 

The researchers are now looking at whether daily folic acid supplements could help postmenopausal women to reduce their risk by relaxing the blood vessels and as such lowering arterial stiffness and reducing strain on the heart.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This research adds to our understanding of the relationship between physical activity and heart disease as we get older.

“If you’re more physically active you give yourself the best chance of a heart-healthy retirement. And although post-menopausal women don’t see quite the same exercise benefits as men, staying active will still reduce their overall risk of developing heart disease.”

The group of researchers are looking for sedentary men and women aged 50-60 years old to take part in a study. Those who are interested can find out more information by emailing Jen at j.craig@lboro.ac.uk

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 18/84

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Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2018 QS World University Rankings, top in the country for its student experience in the 2018 THE Student Experience Survey and named University of the Year in the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2018.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 4th in the Guardian University League Table 2019, 7th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2019. It was also named Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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