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How Physical Activity Protects Your Heart by Reducing Stress Signaling in the Brain?

  • By Team AVISA
  • May 21, 2024

Recent research suggests that engaging in physical activity can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing stress-related signals in the brain.

A study was led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). It was published in the American College of Cardiology Journal. The research discovered that individuals facing stress-related conditions such as depression saw the greatest cardiovascular health benefits from engaging in physical activity.

To understand how physical activity benefits mental and cardiovascular health, Dr. Ahmed Tawakol and his team from the Cardiovascular Imaging Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital examined the medical records of 50,359 participants from the Mass General Brigham Biobank. These participants had completed a survey about their physical activity habits.

Brain imaging tests and stress-related brain activity measurements were conducted on a subset of 774 participants.
Over a period of about ten years, 12.9% of the participants developed cardiovascular disease. Those who met the recommended levels of physical activity had a 23% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who didn’t.

Furthermore, individuals who engaged in more physical activity tended to have lower levels of stress-related brain activity. This reduction was mainly seen in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region responsible for decision-making and impulse control, which helps to regulate stress.

The researchers also found that decreased stress-related brain signaling contributed partially to the cardiovascular benefits of physical activity.

It is noteworthy that within the 50,339 participants, those with heightened stress-related brain activity, like individuals with depression, notably gained more cardiovascular benefits from exercise.

Dr. Tawakol, the senior author of the study, conveyed that physical activity appeared to be approximately twice as effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in individuals with depression. He suggested that this might be attributed to the influence of physical activity on the brain’s stress-related activity.

He also suggested that further studies are necessary to confirm these findings and understand the underlying mechanisms. However, in the meantime, clinicians could inform patients that physical activity may have significant effects on the brain, potentially offering more significant cardiovascular benefits, especially for individuals with stress-related conditions like depression.

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