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Aging News & Information

Cutting Calories Adds Years to Life by Helping Heart Adapt to Challenges

People of any age who practice calorie restriction  have hearts that look and function like they are years younger

By Jim Dryden

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June 6, 2012 - People who restrict their caloric intake in an effort to live longer have hearts that function more like those in people who are 20 years younger.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that a key measure of the heart’s ability to adapt to physical activity, stress, sleep and other factors that influence the rate at which the heart pumps blood, doesn’t decline nearly as rapidly in people who have significantly restricted their caloric intake for an average of seven years.

 

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More links below story.


Read the latest news on Aging

 

The study is available online in the journal Aging Cell.

“This is really striking because in studying changes in heart rate variability, we are looking at a measurement that tells us a lot about the way the autonomic nervous system affects the heart,” says Luigi Fontana, MD, PhD, the study’s senior author.

“And that system is involved not only in heart function, but in digestion, breathing rate and many other involuntary actions. We would hypothesize that better heart rate variability may be a sign that all these other functions are working better, too.”

The researchers hooked portable heart monitors to 22 practitioners of calorie restriction (CR) who ate healthy diets but consumed 30 percent fewer calories than normal. Their average age was just over 51.

For comparison purposes, researchers also studied 20 other people of about the same age who ate standard Western diets. Heart rates were significantly lower in the CR group, and their heart rate variability was significantly higher.

“Higher heart rate variability means the heart can adjust to changing needs more readily,” says lead author Phyllis K. Stein, PhD. “Heart rate variability declines with age as our cardiovascular systems become less flexible, and poor heart rate variability is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular death.”

Stein, a research associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology, has measured heart rate variability in a number of different groups, from older adults to those with depression.

This study was her first experience evaluating heart rate variability in the group often referred to as CRONies (Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition), but members of that group have been studied extensively by Fontana, a research associate professor of medicine at Washington University and investigator at the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome, Italy.

“The idea was to learn, first of all, whether humans on CR, like the calorie-restricted animals that have been studied, have a similar adaptation in heart rate variability,” Fontana says. “The answer is yes. We also looked at normal levels of heart rate variability among people at different ages, and we found that those who practice CR have hearts that look and function like they are years younger.”

Laboratory animals with a restricted calorie intake tend to live 30 percent to 40 percent longer than those that eat standard diets. Many humans who practice calorie restriction believe they also will live significantly longer, but that won’t be known for several more years.

Still, Fontana says much of his research suggests calorie restriction with optimal nutrition contributes to significant changes in people that are similar to changes seen in animals.

“In many of our studies, we have found that a number of metabolic and physiologic changes that occur in calorie-restricted animals also occur in people who practice CR,” Fontana says.

And he says the finding that heart rate variability is better in people who practice CR means more than just that their cardiovascular systems are flexible. He says the better ratio suggests improved health in general.

“But we can’t be absolutely positive that the practice of CR is solely responsible for the flexibility of the cardiovascular system,” Stein says.

“People who practice CR tend to be very healthy in other areas of life, too, so I’m pretty sure they don’t say to themselves, ‘Okay, I’ll restrict my calorie intake to lengthen my life, but I’m still going to smoke two packs a day.’ These people are very motivated, and they tend to engage in a large number of very healthy behaviors.”

Funding for this research comes from the National Center for Research Resources and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Longer Life Foundation, and a donation from the Bakewell Foundation and the Scott and Annie Appleby Charitable Trust.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Links to More Archived Stories

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Resveratrol in Red Wine May Achieve Same Longevity Results as Starvation Dieting

Study important because it suggests that resveratrol and caloric restriction may govern the same master genetic pathways related to aging - June 4, 2008

Starving Yourself to Vastly Extended Life Span Suggested by Recent Study

Report 10-fold life span extension in simple organism – baker’s yeast - June 4, 2008

Low Calorie Diet Wins over Exercise in Extending Life Up to 50 Percent

Diet and exercise prevent of age-related disease, but reducing calories needed to slow aging

May 31, 2006 – If you prefer dieting to exercise, you may be in luck, assuming you, like most senior citizens, are seeking ways to live longer. A new study found that only calorie restriction – not exercise – increases the maximum lifespan up to 50 percent. Read more...

Cutting a Few Calories, Taking Short Walks May Reverse Aging Damage

Study shows it can even reverse aging cell and organ damage

May 8, 2006 - A lifelong habit of trimming just a few calories from the daily diet can do more than slim the waistline - a new study shows it may help lessen the effects of aging. Scientists from the University of Florida's Institute on Aging have found that eating a little less food and exercising a little more over a lifespan can reduce or even reverse aging-related cell and organ damage in rats. Read more...

Never Too Late for Elderly to Improve Their Health, Stop Major Diseases

‘Many elderly people feel that it is too late for them to improve their health, but that is simply not true.’

Dec. 14, 2007 – The author of a new study of scientific data about senior citizens claims he has an important message for the elderly: It's not too late to improve your health through diet and exercise, even if you've had an unhealthy lifestyle in the past! Read more...

Fitness News

Severely Restricted Diet Leads to Physical Fitness into Old Age

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Oct. 31, 2007 – Although research has well established that a healthy diet is very beneficial to longevity, scientist say in a new study they have proven for the first time that severely restricting calories not only leads to a longer life, it also maintains physical fitness into advanced age. Read more...

Experts ‘Weigh In’ on Popular Diet and Exercise Myths

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January 16, 2007 – Senior citizens are increasingly turning to exercise and healthier diets in an attempt to regain the vim and vigor of younger years. Many fail in this quest due to frustration, which may be due to misconceptions and bad information that floats around gyms, the Internet and even senior centers. Read more...

Is Diet or Exercise Best to Prevent Diabetes – Flip a Coin Says Study

Results are from research that is part of NIH-funded longevity study

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Sit-Ups and Sundaes Don’t Mix: Diet with Exercise Works Best

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Senior Citizens Can Save Their Memory by Exercising Bodies and Brains - New Study

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Exercise Can Build Bones for Late Boomers, Senior Citizens

May 25, 2005 – New research says late Boomers and Senior Citizens – those 55 to 75 - can sustain and maybe improve bone mass with a moderate exercise program. The researchers say their results debunk the myth that exercising to lose excess body fat, unlike dieting alone, comes at a cost to bone health. Read more...

 

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