Middle-aged couch potatoes can reverse heart damage with regular exercise, study shows

Even people who have never exercised can repair their hearts if they get active before 65
Dominic Lipinski PA

"We found what we believe to be the optimal dose of the right kind of exercise, which is four to five times a week, and the "sweet spot" in time, when the heart risk from a lifetime of sedentary behavior can be improved-which is late-middle age".

The cardiovascular workout introduced into the study group that saw improvements in heart function involved 30-minute sessions, plus warmups and cool-downs. Two to three times a week was not enough, the researchers found in a previous study.

"Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past five years, this "dose" of exercise has become my prescription for life", said senior author Dr. Benjamin Levine, Director of the Institute and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern.

Dr Levine told the BBC the take-home message from the research is that exercise needs to be a part of people's personal hygiene, like teeth brushing. At some point, the muscle becomes too stiff and the effects of too little activity can't be reversed - just as dried-out rubber bands simply snap when pulled too hard.

This leads to symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, and difficulty carrying out everyday things such as climbing stairs, walking, and carrying shopping. "That's when heart failure develops", he said. For elder people, exercise can give them more benefits than this. In the United Kingdom, more than two-and-a-half million adults are living with the condition, which raises their risk of suffering a fatal heart attack.

Aging can cause a stiffening in the heart, hindering its ability to pump out blood.

Blood depleted of oxygen comes in from the rest of the body into the right atrium and then goes out to the lungs through the right ventricle.

Scans of their hearts' structures were also taken.

However, you can still have heart failure if your ejection fraction reading is normal - this is called heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).

"With two years of exercise we could improve cardiac stiffness in sedentary individuals". Instead, their heart chambers remain large and elastic.

Among the adults who had focused on yoga and balance training, the researchers saw no signs of improvement in the heart.

The study's participants were divided into two groups, with one following an aerobic exercise routine that progressed in intensity over the two years and another doing yoga, balance training and weight training three times a week, also for two years.

At the end of the two-year study period, the differences between the two groups were strikingly clear.

One of the study's limitations is the researchers selected volunteers who were willing and able to participate in an intensive exercise regimen, so results might not apply to the general adult population.

According to Levine, committing to this dose of exercise is nearly as effective at preventing heart damage caused by a sedentary lifestyle as the extreme regimens of elite athletes. Active recovery heart rate is the speed at which the heart beats after exercise. The people in the study gradually increased the amount and length of time they exercised. There was no change in cardiac stiffness among the controls.

There were no such improvements in the control group.

"We found that exercising only two or three times a week didn't do much to protect the heart against aging", Levine said. "I recommend that people do four to five days a week of committed exercise as part of their goals in preserving their health", he said.

One of the participants, aged 55, exercising on a treadmill.

They built up to those levels, beginning with three 30-minute moderate exercise sessions for the first three months after which high intensity exercise was included.



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