July 3 (UPI) -- Having too much fat around the heart may increase cardiovascular risk, a new study says.
The good news is aerobic and resistance exercise can lower that risk by reducing fat depots surrounding the heart known as epicardial adipose and pericardial adipose tissues, according to research published Wednesday in JAMA Cardiology.
Epicardial adipose tissue can metabolize fatty acids which help to prevent atherosclerotic plaques that clog the heart arteries. But the study says too much of the tissue could actually promote atherosclerosis.
Pericardial adipose tissues has a strong link to cardiovascular risk, coronary heart disease and coronary calcification.
"We were interested in understanding the effects of exercise on cardiac adipose tissue mass and whether exercise-based strategies target cardiac adipose tissues in people at risk of cardiovascular disease," Regitse Højgaard Christensen, a researcher at The Capital Region of Denmark, told UPI. "Today we know that adipose tissue is not only a simple energy depot, but a tissue with endocrine functions that affects other organs. We also know that adipose tissue located at different places in the body has different functions -- while some fat depots provoke cardiovascular disease other fat depots may protect against cardiovascular disease."
The study included 50 inactive adults at an average age of 41 with abdominal obesity. After 12 weeks of high-intensity endurance and resistance exercise, the researchers used MRI to measure the fat surrounding the heart.
They found endurance and resistance training got rid of epicardial adipose tissue mass around the heart. Only resistance training, however, reduced pericardial adipose tissue mass -- which Christensen said surprised the research team.
"While this may imply that resistance training is superior to endurance training, the study was not designed to compare the effect of endurance and resistance training, and it is possible that the small study size is the reason for the no effect of endurance training on pericardial adipose tissue mass," Christensen said.
Traditionally, medications like peptide analogs, sodium-glucose transporter 2 inhibitors, and lipid-lowering drugs have effectively removed these tissues, the researchers say. And weight loss surgery has also reduced tissues and ultimately cardiovascular risk.
This study, however, highlights how non-invasive ways -- like exercise -- to reduce both tissue masses.
"The study is interesting since it provides new exploratory evidence that different exercise modalities target epicardial adipose tissue in addition to other known health benefits of exercise -- and this was even without a concomitant diet restriction," Christensen said. "Therefore, the take-home message is that people should be motivated to engage in any type of exercise as a preventative measure given that cardiac adipose tissue is an emerging cardiovascular risk factor."