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Mouse Study Finds that Antioxidants May Add to the Benefits of Exercise in Reducing Risk of Heart Disease

BACKGROUND: Dozens of controlled studies have found that exercise enhances recovery after a heart attack and significantly reduces the subsequent risk of death. Graduated and moderate exercise appears to be more beneficial than strenuous exercise. In addition, many studies have found that vitamins E and C and the amino acid (protein building block) L-arginine also provide cardiovascular benefits.

RESEARCH: Researchers studied mice predisposed to elevated cholesterol levels and fed them a high-cholesterol diet. Some of the mice were exercised moderately, starting with 10 minutes of swimming daily, and increasing in 10-minute increments to 60 minutes daily by the end of the second week. By the third week, the mice swam for 60 minutes twice a day, 5 days per week. Some of the exercising mice received supplemental vitamin E, vitamin C, and L-arginine. Other mice were sedentary over a 15-week period.

RESULTS: Exercising mice had lower blood levels of cholesterol and fewer cholesterol deposits in their arteries, compared with sedentary mice. Furthermore, mice receiving vitamins E and C and arginine had even fewer cholesterol deposits, compared with unsupplemented exercising mice. The researchers wrote that the "synergistic long-term effects of moderate physical exercise, vitamin E, vitamin C, and L-arginine may reduce atherogenesis."

IMPLICATIONS: Although this study was based on laboratory animals, the researchers noted that their findings are consistent with individual human studies on exercise, antioxidants, and L-arginine and the risk of heart attack.

Napoli C, Williams-Ignarro S, de Nigris F, et al. Long-term combined beneficial effects of physical training and metabolic treatment on atherosclerosis in hypercholesterolemic mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, early online edition, May 24-28, 2004.
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