What this study showed
Coronary artery calcification (calcium deposition in the vessels supplying the heart) is now considered an indirect sign of atherosclerosis. If a large number of calcifications are found, doctors can prescribe prophylactic statins and to prevent heart attack.
Previously, scientists have already encountered paradoxical findings: pronounced calcification of the coronary arteries in physically active people. In a new study, Korean scientists tested whether it actually progresses faster in this group than in physically inactive people.
The authors of the study observed the development of coronary artery calcification in people over 30 years of age for three years. The study involved more than 25 thousand people. During the observation period, they underwent computed tomography of the heart at least twice.
The researchers found that coronary artery calcification rates increased faster in physically active people, especially with intense exercise (equivalent to running at least 6.5 km a day).
The researchers stressed that their work does not prove a causal link between physical activity and calicification. They added that it does not provide an understanding of whether such calcification in physically active people actually increases the risk of heart attack.
Is physical activity best to avoid?
Scientists don’t think so
The authors of the editorial in Heart put the question differently: does the new data mean that it is time to abandon the assessment of coronary artery calcification for diagnosis? They urge doctors to interpret it with caution.
“The benefits of physical activity for the cardiovascular system are undeniable,” write the authors of the study, the results of which can shake faith in exercise. In their findings, they point out that their findings “do not question the well-known cardiovascular health benefits of physical activity.”
The evidence for the benefits of physical activity is strong
Scientists recalled that regular physical activity is associated with multifaceted health benefits: a decrease in the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, the risk of death, and a number of other problems (1, 2, 3).
It is important to emphasize that scientific evidence indicates that the more physical activity the better. For example, in a study that covered about 130 thousand people, more active people had a significantly lower risk of death, heart attacks and strokes.
Many studies support the benefits of high-intensity exercise (1, 2, 3). However, they, as demonstrated by previous work, may be associated with the risk of calcification of the coronary arteries. Another study found that this risk is increased in young people who exercise two to three times more than recommended. Scientists have made similar findings among the most active older people. However, people with high physical activity, but with a significant degree of coronary artery calcification, had a lower risk of death than their passive peers.
Where does this calcium in the arteries come from and what is it talking about?
There are suggestions that physical activity under the influence of various factors (stress, vascular damage, increased pressure, hormones, and others) may increase the deposition of cholesterol in the arteries. However, these considerations currently remain theoretical.
Second hypothesis: Described calcium deposits are not associated with increased cardiovascular risk. It is based on the fact that a high density of calcium in atherosclerotic plaques is associated with a relatively low risk of progression of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries. Some studies have suggested that atherosclerotic plaques in the vessels of athletes stop growing and stabilize.
Thus, new scientific evidence may influence the scientific debate around the issue of coronary arthritis calcification. But they do not have a direct relationship to the life of an ordinary person: physical education remains useful.