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 firstname.lastname@example.org.