Seniors, it may be easier than you think to undo the damage of decades of bad eating and precious little exercise.
New research shows that cutting just 250 calories a day and exercising moderately could lead to not only weight loss but improved vascular health in older obese adults.
These lifestyle changes may help offset age-related increases in aortic stiffness, which is a measure of vascular health and impacts heart disease.
"This is the first study to assess the effects of aerobic exercise training with and without reducing calories on aortic stiffness, which was measured via cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging [CMR] to obtain detailed images of the aorta," said study author Tina Brinkley, an associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at the Sticht Center for Healthy Aging and Alzheimer's Prevention at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.
"We sought to determine whether adding caloric restriction for weight loss would lead to greater improvements in vascular health compared to aerobic exercise alone in older adults with obesity," Brinkley explained.
In a randomized, controlled trial with 160 sedentary, obese adults aged 65 to 79, participants were assigned to one of three intervention groups for 20 weeks. One group ate their regular diet and added exercise. The second group added exercise and restricted calories by about 250 per day. The third group exercised and reduced calories by 600 calories per day.
The two calorie-restricted groups received premade lunches and dinners with less than 30% of calories from fat and a set amount of protein for their ideal body weight, prepared under the direction of a registered dietitian. The participants made their own breakfasts using the dietitian-approved menu.
All participants received supervised aerobic exercise training four days per week at the Geriatric Research Center at Wake Forest.
Researchers then used cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging to measure aortic arch pulse wave velocity (PWV), which is the speed at which blood travels through the aorta, and distensibility, or the ability of the aorta to expand and contract. A stiffer aorta has higher PWV values and lower distensibility values.
Weight loss of nearly 10%, or about 20 pounds, was associated with significant improvements in aortic stiffness only in the group that trimmed 250 calories. That group also had a 21% increase in distensibility and an 8% decrease in PWV.
None of the aortic stiffness measures changed significantly in either of the two other groups.
Both of the calorie-restricted groups showed bigger changes in BMI, total fat mass, percent body fat, abdominal fat and waist circumference than the exercise-only group.
Weight loss was similar between the calorie-restricted groups despite nearly two times fewer calories in the intensive calorie restriction group.
The findings appear Aug. 2 in the journal Circulation.
"These results suggest that combining exercise with modest calorie restriction -- as opposed to more intensive calorie restriction or no calorie restriction -- likely maximizes the benefits on vascular health, while also optimizing weight loss and improvements in body composition and body fat distribution," Brinkley said in a journal news release.
"The finding that higher-intensity calorie restriction may not be necessary or advised has important implications for weight loss recommendations to improve cardiovascular disease risk in older adults with obesity," she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on cardiovascular disease.
SOURCE: Circulation, news release, Aug. 2, 2021