March 1 (UPI) -- Researchers in the Netherlands have found the benefits of physical activity could lessen the impact of obesity on cardiovascular disease in middle-aged and elderly people.
A new study from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam shows physical activity may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of body mass index, or BMI.
"Overweight and obesity is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and it is recommended to lose weight," Dr. Klodian Dhana, a postdoctoral researcher at Erasmus University, said in a press release.
"But in the elderly this is slightly different because weight loss, especially unintentional, is associated with muscle loss and death. Physical activity is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of age. We investigated the combined impact of body mass index and physical activity on cardiovascular disease in the middle age to elderly population."
Being overweight or obese can fuel harmful effects through adipose tissue that hastens the atherosclerotic process and increases cardiovascular risk. Physical activity, however, can lessen the effects of atherosclerosis by reducing the stabilization of plaques on blood vessels and the oxygen demands of the heart.
Researchers followed 5,344 people ages 55 to 97 with no cardiovascular disease from 1997 to 2012. Data was collected on BMI, physical activity, smoking, alcohol use, diet, education and family history of heart attack. Participants were divided into three weight categories; normal, overweight and obese, and then divided by low or high level of physical activity.
Results showed 16 percent of participants had a cardiovascular event during the 15-year follow-up. Researchers found physical activity was linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of BMI, and there was no link found between BMI alone and cardiovascular disease.
"In the overall population, we found that physical activity was protective for cardiovascular risk," Dhana said. "Overweight and obese participants were not at increased cardiovascular risk compared to those of normal weight. We do not refute the risk associated with obesity in the general population even though we did not find it in this older group. BMI may not be the best way to measure adiposity risk in the elderly."
The study found people who were overweight or obese with high levels of physical activity were not at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but overweight or obese people with low levels of physical activity had a 1.33 and 1.35 times higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
"Our results show that physical activity plays a crucial role in the health of middle age to elderly people," Dhana said.