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Exercise Reduces Heart Disease Risk by Diminishing Stress-Related Brain Activity

New research suggests that engaging in physical activity can reduce the risk of developing heart disease by decreasing brain activity triggered by stress. Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the study found that individuals who were more physically active exhibited lower levels of stress-related brain activity. This reduction in stress-related brain activity was attributed to improvements in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in decision-making and goal-oriented behavior, which helps to regulate stress centers in the brain.

The study, conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the United States, observed that the cardiovascular benefits of exercise were particularly significant for individuals expected to experience higher levels of stress-related brain activity, such as those with depression. Senior author Ahmed Tawakol noted that physical activity appeared to be approximately twice as effective in reducing cardiovascular disease risk among individuals with depression, suggesting that the effects on stress-related brain activity could explain this finding.

Analyzing medical records of over 50,000 participants, including brain imaging data from more than 700 individuals, the researchers found that those meeting physical activity recommendations had a 23% lower risk of developing heart and related diseases over a typical follow-up period of 10 years. While prospective studies are needed to further understand the mechanisms and establish causality, Tawakol emphasized that clinicians could inform patients about the potential brain effects of physical activity, which may offer greater cardiovascular benefits for individuals with stress-related syndromes like depression.


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