Exercise can still help middle-aged couch potatoes

Proper exercise can reverse damage from heart aging

Dr Benjamin Levine, lead author of the study and the founder and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, a joint programme between Texas Health Resources and UT Southwestern Medical Center Dallas, Texas, said: "The key to a healthier heart in middle age is the right dose of exercise, at the right time in life". People in the intensive exercise group were able to improve the amount of oxygen the heart took in from the blood and consequently distributed to the rest of the body, while those in the balance and flexibility group did not show any improvement.

Granted, doing an interval workout may require more effort than taking a shower. None of the participants had engaged in regular exercise throughout their lives, but all were otherwise healthy.

The heart-health-boosting effects were not seen in a group of participants who exercised less vigorously.

The committed exercise program also notably decreased cardiac stiffness.

Heart patients were divided into three groups - those who did aerobic exercise, those who practiced Indian yoga, and a group that participated in both yoga and aerobic exercise. Those who had performed aerobic exercises showed an 18 percent improvement in their maximum oxygen intake during exercise and a more than 25 percent improvement in compliance, or elasticity, of the left ventricular muscle of the heart - the chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood back out to the body. The exercise group was also able to reduce the stiffness in their heart muscle, while there was no change in this measure among people in the other group. In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs.

Decades of damage caused by leading a sedentary lifestyle could be reversed over two years with the "right dose" of exercise, researchers found. In fact, the researchers say the effort can be nearly as good for your heart's flexibility as being a pro athlete.

The researchers believe inactive, middle-aged people should slot exercise into their routine in the same way they do brushing their teeth or showering.

Such benefits can be reaped as long as people start regularly exercising before age 65, a time when the heart still retains some plasticity and ability to remodel itself.

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Recent research has suggested that sitting all day is linked to the buildup of proteins called troponins, which heart muscle cells release when they're damaged.

One of the weekly sessions included a high-intensity 30-minute workout, such as aerobic interval sessions in which heart rate tops 95 percent of peak rate for 4 minutes, with 3 minutes of recovery, repeated four times (a so-called "4 x 4").

One day's session lasted an hour and was of moderate intensity. And one to two sessions focused on strength training.

However, researchers said there were a couple of limitations to the study. The participants were not diverse-most were white-so it's unclear that there may be differences in findings among other racial groups.

The participants were required to do 150 minutes of exercise a week, as well as sessions of high-intensity training for increased fat burning. That's not always a given considering motivation can be a challenge, as can physical injuries or other limitations. For people who are completely bedridden and do hardly any exercise, the heart muscles atrophy at about 1% a week, says Levine.

While the exercise program in the study may seem excessive, Levine says that not everyone in the study started out completing all of the activities.

Dr Siow said the study also had ramifications for conditions relating to cognitive decline, such as dementia, because improved heart function facilitates blood flow to the brain.

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