Caucasian men who exercise three times above the U.S. national guidelines for working out (150 minutes per week) are 86% more likely than black men, and those who exercise less, to develop a buildup of plaque in their hearts by the time they’re middle aged, according to a new study.
The team from the University of Illinois, Chicago, researched the coronary artery calcification (CAC) of over 3,000 18 to 30-year-old white and black men from Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Minneapolis, and Oakland, Calif. over 25 years.
The men were grouped by the number of minutes they worked out per week on average. The first group exercised less than the recommended 150 minutes per week, group two reached that mark and group three blew past it and worked out 450 minutes each week.
“We expected to see that higher levels of physical activity over time would be associated with lower levels of CAC,” UIC Applied Health Sciences assistant Prof. Deepika Laddu told Science Daily.
CAC is the measure of built-up calcium and plaque in the heart’s arteries. Its presence and specific amount is a significant warning sign that a person is at risk for developing heart disease. In the study, the researchers found, surprisingly, that the third group of avid exercisers was 27% more likely to develop CAC by the end of the experiment (at ages 43 to 55) than their group one peers. White men in the study specifically were 86% more likely to have CAC.
“Because the study results show a significantly different level of risk between black and white participants based on long-term exercise trajectories, the data provides rationale for further investigation, especially by race, into the other biological mechanisms for CAC risk in people with very high levels of physical activity,” Laddu said.
The researches stressed that these findings require further experimentation and study and by no means “suggest that anyone should stop exercising.”
“High levels of exercise over time may cause stress on the arteries leading to higher CAC,” said the study’s co-author, Jamal Rana. “However, this plaque buildup may well be of the more stable kind and thus less likely to rupture and cause heart attack, which was not evaluated in this study.”