Older diabetics improve artery health with aerobic exercise

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Results of a new study show that old diabetics can improve elasticity of the arteries with aerobic exercise. For the study, researchers were able to show that older diabetics were able to improve artery health in just three months from aerobic exercise.

The result of aerobic exercise for older diabetics that improved artery health and reduced risk of stroke and heart attack were presented by Dr. Kenneth Madden at the 2009 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society. Older adults, age 65 to 83 with controlled type 2 diabetes experienced a fifteen to twenty percent improvement in elasticity of the arteries from aerobic exercise.

"The theory is that aerobic activity makes your arteries less stiff and makes artery walls more elastic," says Dr. Madden, a geriatric specialist at the University of British Columbia.” When the arteries become stiff and narrow the result is high blood pressure that in turn can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. Aerobic exercise, even in older adults was shown to improve artery health by making them more elastic and relaxed.

Dr. Madden says, "People always underestimate what older adults can do." Vigorous aerobic exercise was well tolerated by older adults, but might seem controversial because of age. "There seems to be a knee-jerk reluctance to getting these older adults to exercise yet we used a vigorous level of activity and didn't have any trouble keeping participants in our study. They enjoyed the activity.”

Older adults need aerobic exercise to remain healthy and independent. It is important for older adults to learn how to perform aerobic exercise safely, an important point stressed by Dr. Madden. "It could mean visiting your family doctor to find out about provincially funded programs, or joining programs for seniors that are offered at many local community centres."


The simple act of stretching and remaining flexible has also been linked to lower risk of heart attack and is associated with elasticity in the arteries. Endurance training in post menopausal women has been found to improve capacity to use oxygen in older women that typically declines with age, turning back the clock. Aerobic exercise for older adults has many benefits.

The benefits of aerobic exercise among diabetics also include lower risk of kidney disease progression, a common complication of type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Beth Abramson, spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation says, "Almost everyone can benefit from active living. The Foundation recommends that, like adults of any age, older adults – with the consent of their physicians − need 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week." Aerobic exercise can also mediate the harmful effects of too much weight in the midsection that contributes to diabetes, making aerobic exercise a valuable tool for older adults with type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Abramson says it is important for older adults to find aerobic exercise activities that are enjoyable. Suggestions for aerobic activity include stair climbing, walking indoors or out, gardening, Tai Chi, golfing, dancing, and Yoga.

Keeping arteries healthy is essential to prevent stroke and heart attack. Aerobic exercise is now shown to improve artery health in older adults with type 2 diabetes. The findings show the importance of aerobic exercise for seniors that can improve artery elasticity and overall health.

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada