You would think that more exercise makes you healthier. Not so if you’re a white man, according to a remarkable new discovery.
Scientific researchers in Chicago studied 25-year exercise patterns and made the surprising discovery that very active white men are 86 percent more likely to experience a dangerous buildup of plaque in their heart arteries by middle age.
They concluded that white men who work out at least 7.5 hours per week are nearly twice as likely to suffer from heart disease than those who exercise only a moderate amount.
High levels of exercise cause stress on the arteries, resulting in higher coronary artery calcification (CAC).
Interestingly, these findings didn’t apply to black men, according to the researchers.
The research findings: white men are at higher risk
The research team from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Kaiser Permanente studied the physical activity of 3,175 white and black participants, assessing the presence of CAC.
The levels of CAC is a warning sign to doctors of the risk a patient faces for developing heart disease.
Assistant Professor of physical therapy in the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences Deepika Laddu said: “We expected to see that higher levels of physical activity over time would be associated with lower levels of CAC.”
Their findings were shocking.
At the top level of exercise, there was no extra risk for black men. But white men experienced an 86 percent increase in the risk of heart disease.
The study was unique for examining long term exercise patterns, with participants having eight follow-up examinations over a 25 year period from 1985 to 2011.
The participants were split into these three groups based on their average levels of exercise:
- Group one was defined as exercising below the national guidelines of 150 minutes per week.
- Group two met the national guidelines of 150 minutes per week.
- Group three exercised above the national guidelines of over 450 minutes per week.
Here were the findings:
- People in group three were 27 percent more likely than those in group one to develop CAC by middle age.
- After dividing the results by race and gender, white men in group three were found to be 86 percent more likely to have CAC.
- Black men didn’t experience higher changes of having CAC in group three.
- White women experienced a similar trend to white men, but not enough to be statistically significant.
Laddu said the following: “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.”
Dr. Jamal Rana is a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland and was a co-author of the study. He said the following: “High levels of exercise over time may cause stress on the arteries leading to higher CAC.”
“However, this plaque buildup may well be of the ore stable kind, and thus less likely to rupture and causes heart attack, which was not evaluated in the study.”
He added: “It does not suggest that anyone should stop exercising.”