Physicists have modeled how age and exercise affect the growth of atherosclerotic plaques

(ORDO NEWS) — Engineers in China used hydrodynamic modeling to find out how exercise affects carotid blood flow and plaque formation at different ages. It turned out that the benefits that exercise will bring depend both on the age of the patient and on the geometry of his carotid artery.

According to WHO, the two most common causes of death today are heart attack and stroke, and both of these cardiovascular diseases are often caused by generalized atherosclerosis.

A key role in the development of this chronic disease is played by cholesterol plaques, which deform the vessels, narrowing the lumen and reducing their patency. It is known that the process of plaque formation is influenced by the age of the patient and exercise, but it is still not well understood how the geometric features of the arteries affect it.

In the new work, the researchers took two models with different carotid geometry. In one model, the external carotid artery—the branch that carries blood to the neck, face, and scalp—was straight, while in the other, it was slightly dilated. The scientists hypothesized that this expansion could be a weak point in plaque formation and, consequently, increase the risk of atherosclerosis.

To create a model of physical activity, the authors digitized measurements of blood flow in people in three different age groups: 32-34, 54-55 and 62-63 years. The digitized flow rates were used as input to the computational model.

It turned out that the effect of exercise is different for three age groups and two carotid geometries. One of the key characteristics modeled as being affected by physical activity is reverse blood flow, which traps LDL in the vessel lumen longer and increases the risk of plaque formation.

In groups with an enlarged external carotid artery, the volume of reverse blood flow increased in all age groups, and in groups with a direct external carotid artery, it increased in young people and decreased in older people.

From the results obtained, scientists conclude that it is necessary to take into account the age and individual anatomical features of the patient in order to assess the potential benefits of playing sports as a prevention of atherosclerosis. In the future, they plan to combine their observations with an analysis of the physiological and chemical processes that occur at the cellular level.

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