September 20 (UPI) – Physical activity, while generally beneficial for the heart, can in some cases increase a person’s risk for heart disease, a study published Monday by Heart magazine found.
This is because exercise can cause calcium deposits called plaques to build up in the coronary arteries faster, the researchers said.
Study participants who exercised regularly had larger deposits of calcium in their coronary arteries, the data showed.
But even in those with this increased buildup of plaque, the ability of regular physical activity to maintain a healthy weight and strengthen the heart and lungs outweighs any potential risks, according to the researchers.
“Physical activity is a key component of a healthy lifestyle, but those who start exercising may have spikes in their coronary calcium levels,” said study co-author Dr. Eliseo Guallar, in an email to UPI.
“This is not necessarily bad news, however, because it can mean that atherosclerotic lesions in the coronary arteries are becoming more stable and less dangerous,” said Guallar, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
Atherosclerotic lesions are areas in the coronary arteries where calcium deposits have formed, according to Guallar.
In animal studies at least, less stable or dense lesions seem more likely to rupture and harden arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis that is often a precursor to a heart attack or stroke.
The coronary artery calcium, or CAC, score is used to estimate a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke, according to the University of Maryland Medical System.
A CAC score between 11 and 100 is associated with a moderate risk of heart disease, a score between 101 and 400 generally includes a diagnosis of heart disease and carries a moderate to high risk of heart attack, and a score above 400 is a. Linked 90% chance of plaque blocking an artery, with a high chance of having a heart attack.
Most people with a CAC of 100 or more are prescribed drugs called statins because these drugs can prevent calcium deposits from building up, the system says.
However, many endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, have higher CAC scores despite having a low risk of atherosclerosis, research suggests.
For this study, Guallar and his colleagues analyzed coronary artery calcium in more than 25,000 healthy adults aged 30 and over who underwent regular comprehensive examinations between March 2011 and December 2017 at two major health centers in Seoul and Suwon, South Korea.
For each exam, study participants completed a questionnaire that included questions about medical and family health history, lifestyle habits, and weight, blood pressure, and blood lipid levels were also assessed, the researchers said.
At the first check-up, the physical activity of the participants was classified as either inactive, moderately active or “beneficial to health” or intensely physically active based on the answers to the questionnaire.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) were used to follow the development and progression of coronary artery calcification, which were then assessed over an average of three years.
Of the study participants, 47% were inactive, 38% were moderately active, and 15% were vigorous physical activity, and the three groups had mean CAC values of 9.5, 10.2, and 12 at baseline.
Participants who were more physically active tended to be older and smoked less than those who were less physically active.
They also had lower total cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and existing signs of calcium deposits in their coronary arteries.
Additionally, those who were moderately and intensely active saw an average increase in CAC scores of 3 to 8 over a five-year period, the data showed.
Physical activity can, among other things, increase the narrowing of the coronary arteries due to increases in blood pressure, the researchers said.
“Exercise can be linked to increases in coronary calcium, a common marker of heart attack risk,” Guallar said.
“However, this change doesn’t necessarily reflect a higher risk of poor results,” he said.