Roundup: Women may Benefit More from Regular Exercise Than Men; Long COVID’s Link to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; and More News

Women May Realize More Health Benefits Than Men From Same Amount of Exercise, Study Finds

Women can earn more cardiovascular health benefits from exercise than men based on the same amount of physical activity, according to a new U.S. study supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In the observational study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, more than 412,000 U.S. adults, ages 27 to 61, reported on their exercise levels in a survey every few years with the National Center for Health Statistics. The overall time period: 1997 to 2019. Researchers then used the National Death Index records following the survey period to track mortality from all causes -- and specifically cardiovascular-related illness.

“Even a limited amount of regular exercise can provide a major benefit, and it turns out this is especially true for women,” said senior study author Susan Cheng, M.D., director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, in a statement. “Taking some regular time out for exercise, even if it’s just 20-30 minutes of vigorous exercise a few times each week, can offer a lot more gain than they may realize.”

The study’s authors explain that several factors, including variations in anatomy and physiology, may account for the differences in outcomes from exercise between the sexes.

“For example, men often have increased lung capacity, larger hearts, more lean-body mass, and a greater proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers compared to women,” states a news release from the NIH on the study. “As a result, women may use added respiratory, metabolic, and strength demands to conduct the same movement and, in turn, reap greater health rewards.”

For substantial health benefits, U.S. guidelines call for all adults to get at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling. Adults should also do some muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

CDC: Long COVID can Increase Risk of ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ Four-Fold

In new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  researchers found the risk for “chronic fatigue syndrome” was 4.3 times higher among those who experience “long COVID” lingering symptoms, compared to those who do not.

The study, which will be published in the March 2024 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases (the CDC’s monthly peer-reviewed public health journal), compared the data from COVID-19 patients with data from participants of similar characteristics who had not had COVID-19.

Chronic fatigue symptoms after COVID-19 were more common among women than men, older than younger individuals, and those who had other underlying health issues such has cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In a separate report released in December, the CDC indicated that myalgic encephalomyelitis – better known as “chronic fatigue syndrome” – may be more common than previously thought. And for the first time, the CDC estimates the number of adults suffering from ME/CFS: 1.3 percent of U.S. adults, or about 3.35 million individuals based on the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau figures.

However, that figure is likely much higher because the condition is commonly undiagnosed, the CDC says. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic is playing a significant – but not clearly understood -- factor in the rising cases of ME/CFS. During 2021-2022, the CDC said the percentage of adults who had ME/CFS increased with age through ages 60–69, and then declined among those age 70 and older. Women (1.7 percent) were more likely than men (0.9 percent) to have ME/CFS.

States the CDC in its latest study released this month:

“In conclusion, our data indicate that COVID-19 is associated with a significant increase in new fatigue diagnoses, and physicians should be aware that fatigue might occur or be newly recognized 1 year (or more) after acute COVID-19.

“Future study is needed to better understand the possible association between fatigue and clinical outcomes. The high incidence rates of fatigue reinforce the need for public health actions to prevent infections, to provide clinical care to those in need, and to find effective treatments for post–acute COVID-19 fatigue.”

Salt Substitutes May Lower Risk of Developing High Blood Pressure by 40% in Older Adults, Study Finds

Replacing regular salt, which contains sodium, with a potassium-enriched salt substitute can reduce incidences of hypertension, or high blood pressure, in older adults, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The new study found that people who used the salt substitute had a 40 percent lower likelihood of hypertension, compared to those who used regular salt. Moreover, researchers noted that this occurred without “increasing their risk of low blood pressure episodes.”

One teaspoon of table salt contains about 2,400 mg of sodium. Consuming too much sodium can increase your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke, states the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). U.S. adults consume more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, on average,  well above the federal recommendation of less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily as part of a healthy eating pattern, the CDC states.

One well-established method of reducing hypertension is by reducing sodium intake. The new study focused on salt substitutes “as a better solution to control and maintain healthy blood pressure than reducing salt alone,” states a news release from the American College of Cardiology.

Researchers evaluated the impact of sodium reduction strategies on blood pressure in elderly adults residing in care facilities in China. The DECIDE-Salt study included 611 participants, 55 years or older, from 48 facilities. Study participants were split into two groups: 24 facilities (313 participants) replacing regular salt with the salt substitute, and 24 facilities (298 participants) continuing the use of regular salt.

After two years, the incidence of hypertension was 11.7 per 100 people in participants using the salt substitute ,and 24.3 per 100 people-years in participants with regular salt. People using the salt substitute were 40 percent less likely to develop hypertension, compared to those using regular salt.

At the beginning of the study, participants did not have blood pressure readings above 140 mm Hg/90 mm Hg, and were not taking high blood pressure medications. Hypertension Stage 1 is when blood pressure consistently ranges from 130 to 139 systolic or 80 to 89 mm Hg diastolic. Stage 2 is when blood pressure consistently is 140/90 mm Hg or higher.

The study concludes: “This suggests a desirable strategy for population-wide prevention and control of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, deserving further consideration in future studies.”

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