DAMAGE to the heart caused by a sedentary lifestyle can be reversed by exercise, provided it is initiated early and undertaken regularly, suggest the results of a study performed by the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM), a collaboration between University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, both in Dallas, Texas, USA.
During sedentary ageing, the left ventricular muscle in the heart loses its elasticity, reducing its efficiency at pumping blood around the body in a process Dr Benjamin Levine, Director of the IEEM, likened to an elastic band growing stiff from disuse. “When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber does not fill as well with blood. In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That’s when heart failure develops,” he explained.
Previous studies by the researchers focussing on the effects of exercise on the heart’s elasticity have shown positive results in young individuals after a year of training, but little benefit for those beginning the training after the age of 65 years; thus, a study was devised to explore the effect of exercise in people aged 45–64 years. Fifty-three participants were divided into two groups, one took part in supervised exercise training, while the control group participated in yoga and balance training. Previous studies have shown that exercising 2–3 times a week was not enough to improve heart elasticity; therefore, the regimen stipulated exercise was to take place 4–5 times a week, typically in 30-minute sessions, ranging in intensity.
The results of this 2-year study showed an 18% improvement in maximum oxygen intake during exercise, as well as a >25% improvement in left ventricular muscle compliance, or elasticity, for the exercise group. “Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past 5 years, this ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life,” explained Dr Levine. This research demonstrates the benefits of regular exercise on heart health in people who are middle-aged, before the heart loses its plasticity. “I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene, just like brushing your teeth or taking a shower,” added Dr Levine.