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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
‘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!
Rats on restricted calorie diet had
significantly higher physical performance
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
Senior citizens increasingly turn to exercise,
healthy diet as keys to rejuvenation
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.
Results are from research that is part of NIH-funded
November 8, 2006 – You are getting older. You see
many of your friends suffering with diabetes. You know it is one of the
leading causes of premature death. What is the best way to avoid it –
exercise of diet?
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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