Staying Active, Youthful and Heart-Healthy

Hirofumi Tanaka discusses the effect of healthy lifestyles or cardiovascular fitness and aging in Discovery Minute.

February is National Heart Health Awareness month, and College of Education (COE) professor Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka has been at the forefront of heart-healthy research for more than 20 years. A world-renowned expert on vascular dysfunction and the effect it has on aging, Tanaka is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, the director of the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory (CARL) and the program coordinator for the Exercise Physiology program.  

Tanaka’s research centers on preventative lifestyle habits that reverse vascular dysfunction and lead to healthier aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of all ethnic groups in the United States. In 2021, 1 in 5 deaths in the United States were caused by heart disease, and the combined costs of medicine, health care services and lost productivity due to heart-related illness is more than $200 billion per year. 

Tanaka has found a direct correlation between aging and arterial stiffness and has shown that a healthy diet and regular exercise are essential to keeping your arteries functioning properly. The key to finding and sticking to an exercise routine, he says, is finding an activity that you genuinely enjoy, so aerobic endurance activities like jogging, swimming or rowing are ideal to prevent artery stiffening and maintain good cardiovascular health.   

“There’s no such thing as the Fountain of Youth, we all know that,” says Tanaka. “But I think that exercise is as close as you can get because exercise keeps your arteries, as well as your muscles and other tissues, healthy and younger.”  

Currently, Tanaka and the members of his lab are researching the effects of aquatic exercise on cognitive function and mobility for older adults, the efficacy of seaweed-based nutritional supplements and finding a better way to assess arterial stiffness.  

Tanaka has earned many awards and accolades for his work. In 2022, he was inducted into the National Academy of Kinesiology and given an Honor Award from the Texas American College of Sports Medicine, and in 2023 he was named one of UT Austin’s best medical scholars by