Middle Aged Couple Cycling Through Countryside

Aerobic Exercise Makes the Heart Grow 'Younger'

By Trudi Purdy, wlr team

Key Takeaways

  • You can turn back time and improve your heart health even in late middle age
  • Don’t leave it too late though – a 70 year old heart doesn’t get the same second chance

Time marches on regardless of how much we wish it wouldn’t and, as we grow older, our bodies start to show it, inside and out.

But it’s not all doom and gloom according to Dr Ben Levine, a sports cardiologist at University of Texas in Dallas.

Levine and his colleagues have found that even if you haven’t been particularly active previously, starting moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise in midlife can turn the clock back for your heart.

The Study

‘Think of the heart muscle as a rubber band. In the beginning, it is flexible and pliable. But leave it in a drawer for 20 years and it will emerge dry and brittle.’ Levine says.

Basically, the heart becomes stiff and finds it more difficult to pump which can lead to breathlessness and, eventually, heart failure.

Levine and his colleagues recruited 53 volunteers aged 53-62 who were previously sedentary. They were split into two groups. The first group did non-aerobic exercise like yoga and weight lifting while the second group did moderate to high intensity interval training with a trainer. Group one did exercise 3 times a week, group two did exercise at least 4 times a week.

Two years later, the higher intensity aerobic exercise group saw dramatic improvements in their heart health.

Levine says,

‘We took these 50 year old hearts and turned the clock back to 30 or 35 year old hearts!’

The hearts of the people in the higher intensity group processed oxygen more efficiently and were noticeably less stiff.

Still a Use By Date

However, there is a particular time in life that the changes can be made. Levine says,

‘The sweet spot in life to get off the couch and start exercising, if you haven’t already, is in late middle age when the heart still has plasticity.’

They put healthy 70 year olds through a yearlong training programme but couldn’t change the structure of their hearts and blood vessels.

Dr Neica Goldberg, cardiologist and spokeswoman for the American Heart Association says Levine’s research is important and the findings are a great start.

Conclusion

The outcome of this small study is really encouraging for those of us who discover exercise a bit later in life.

Any activity would give you the feel good factor because of the endorphins it releases and the sooner you start the better. But this study gives hope to those who haven’t been active before, which is great news. It will be interesting to see the findings of a few more, larger scale studies.

The outcome does seem to make sense though. I guess the heart is like any other muscle in the body. Using it makes it stronger.

We have a beginners HIIT program that you could have a look at. It has three different levels and the first level can be completed in just 7 minutes. As with all new exercise routines though, please check with your GP before giving it a go.

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