As we age, staying active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle becomes increasingly important. However, there are certain circumstances where exercising could actually be bad for your health, research has revealed.
Exercise could potentially induce a stroke in individuals with narrowed or blocked carotid arteries, research published in the journal Physics of Fluids has demonstrated.
Carotid arteries, located on both sides of your neck, supply blood to the brain and facial tissues. Over time, fat, cholesterol, and other particles can build up inside the inner walls of these arteries, forming plaques that narrow the artery.
This narrowing, known as carotid stenosis, limits blood flow and oxygen to the brain, increasing the risk of stroke. Detecting carotid stenosis in its early stages can be very challenging.
In the study, researchers used a computer model to simulate blood flow in carotid arteries with varying degrees of stenosis. They found that the elevated heart rates caused by exercise could significantly increase the shear stress at the stenosis zone, potentially causing the plaque to rupture and flow to the brain, resulting in an ischemic stroke.
The authors emphasise that intense exercise may have adverse effects on individuals with moderate or higher levels of carotid stenosis.
Therefore, caution should be exercised when approaching exercise for those with a significant artery blockage.
It is important for individuals with moderate to severe stenosis to seek medical advice and consider lifestyle modifications and surgical interventions, which can effectively open up blocked carotid arteries.
For healthy individuals, or those with only slight artery blockage, exercise continues to be beneficial for maintaining healthy blood flow.
In fact, the study confirms that regular exercise is still strongly recommended for heart health. Exercise helps stabilise the drag force exerted on the vessel walls, reducing the risk of stenosis and promoting overall cardiovascular wellbeing.
Dr Adi Iyer, a neurosurgeon who was not involved in this study, told Medical News Today that the findings may be too general to categorically say exercise increases stroke risk for patients with extensive carotid stenosis.
“This study was done using computer modelling, which doesn’t exactly translate to true human physiology,” he says.
“For example, in humans, the brain has a system of collateral circulation called the Circle of Willis, which connects the arteries from the left to right and front to back of the brain. The patency of these collaterals as well as numerous other factors will ultimately determine the stroke risk for real patients.”
When starting a new exercise program, it is advisable to increase the frequency gradually. Individuals can also experiment with low, moderate, and high intensities of exercise to understand the unique effects on inflammatory biomarkers.
It is crucial to listen to your body and be aware of any warning signs, such as chest pain, dizziness, nausea, or shortness of breath. If you have a BMI over 30, are aged over 40, or have a family history of heart disease, it is best to consult with a doctor before embarking on a new exercise routine.
How often do you exercise each week? Has it ever caused issues for your heart? Let us know in the comments section below.