So understanding the pathways through which physical activity influences the various systems and organs of the human body "could lead to new therapeutic strategies to attack the mechanisms of cardiovascular diseases". Mikel Izquierdo-Redín, professor in the Department of Health Sciences of the Public University of Navarre (NUP/UPNA) and researcher at Navarrabiomed (mixed centre for biomedical research of the NUP/UPNA and the Government of Navarre), has participated in this work.
"The loss of muscle strength and mass is one of the 'forgotten' risk factors in cardiovascular disease," said Mikel Izquierdo, head of the Physical Exercise, Life Cycle, Active Ageing and Health research group (E-FIT) and member of the Institute of Health Research of Navarre (IdiSNA). "Yet it can be corrected with a strength training programme even in elderly individuals."
The authors of the paper, attached to universities, health centres and research institutes in four countries (the USA, Spain, Portugal and Sweden), stress that it is high time that physical exercise be regarded as "a medicine for treating cardiovascular diseases". They also stress that "unlike most drugs, exercise is largely free of adverse effects, and its benefits are to a certain extent dose-dependent"; in other words: once one has gradually become accustomed to it, the doses of physical activity can be increased.
The little-known potential of physical activity
Yet the researchers lament the fact that "the huge potential of resistance exercise and strength training to reverse both the disease and the effects of ageing on muscle mass and thus improve cardiovascular health gets scant recognition in the majority of clinical treatments".
That is why they are putting forward "a comprehensive view of cardiovascular diseases in the context of the human body as a whole". They insist that the cardiovascular system (heart, blood vessels --arteries, veins and capillaries-- and blood) "should not be separated from the other organs, such as the above-mentioned skeletal muscles or intestinal microbiota, when addressing cardiovascular diseases". This comprehensive view translates into including not only the cardiovascular system, but also "the interaction between the heart and blood vessels with other tissue, including skeletal muscle, adipose tissue and even the intestine, by also using a range of approaches of an epidemiological, physiological and molecular type". In their view, this comprehensive perspective "could be of great help for health professionals who prescribe no physical exercise for their patients".