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Exercise is good for heart health, but race and gender factor in

September 10, 2009 |  2:32 pm

Exercise may be a routine recommendation for improving heart health, but its effects may differ depending on one's race and gender, according to a new study.

Je6zy7nc Researchers reviewed data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, a long-term look at athersclerotic disease that included more than 15,000 men and women of various races who were around middle age at the beginning of the study. For the new study, information on 8,764 people was analyzed to determine what effects different levels of exercise had on cholesterol and triglycerides, and if those effects varied for men and women and for white and African Americans.

Overall, women had higher HDL ("good") cholesterol and total cholesterol, but men had higher LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides. African Americans had significantly lower triglycerides than whites. A few more discoveries: The population overall was overweight, with African American women on average obese. Most people exercised at a moderate level.

Increases in physical activity levels coincided with overall increases of HDL cholesterol and decreased levels of triglycerides in whites. Those increases were also associated with improved LDL levels only in women, and total cholesterol only in African American women. Researchers also discovered that physical activity had more effect on LDL cholesterol in postmenopausal women.

Although some of the improvements can be chalked up to lipid-lowering medications, other factors may be involved. In the study, the authors wrote, "Although there is considerable interindividual variability in the response to physical activity, and with the understanding that physical activity is not necessarily an easily modified behavior, these results and others provide further evidence for and highlight the importance of consistent activity on plasma lipid profiles."

The study appeared in the August issue of the Journal of Lipid Research.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times