Exercising four to five days a week can reverse heart aging and even make up for decades of a sedentary lifestyle.
How to maintain heart health even as you age.
Getting older isn’t forgiving on the body. Then again, that’s just part of life, isn’t it? We grow older, our bodies get weaker, our joints get all out of whack, and we can’t do as much as could when we were younger. Though that’s all true, however, it doesn’t actually have to be. There are ways to reverse the effects of aging, including the effects of old age on the heart.
Aging hearts become stiffer, thus losing some of its ability to pump blood. That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that a lifestyle change can make aging hearts work like they belong to a much younger person. Cardiologists say that enough exercise begun at the right time can reverse the damage wrought by a sedentary lifestyle as well as reduce the risks of heart failure.
It’s important to note that you can’t just start exercising at any point in old age and expect your heart to beat like it’s new. Past a certain age, the health benefits of exercise may not reach their full potential. According to a new study conducted by cardiologists at UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources, the exercise regimen should start before the age of 65, or late middle age. The researchers say that this is because before that age, the heart still has some plasticity.
It’s also important to make sure that the exercise is done four to five times a week, as earlier findings show that exercising only two to three times a week is not enough.
The exercise regimen is generally composed of sessions that last at least 30 minutes, not counting warmups and cool-downs. One of the sessions is a high-intensity workout, while one or two others are of moderate intensity. This means that the study participants should still be able to pass the “talk test”, or still be able to have a conversation after an activity that made them break a sweat. Another session of moderately intense exercise entails spending an hour on activities like tennis, running, biking, or the like. The remaining one or two sessions, meanwhile, are strength training exercises.
Improving your heart's health takes work, but it's worth it.
53 volunteers aged 45 to 64 participated in the study and were divided into two groups. One group underwent a two-year program of exercise training. The other group, functioning as the control group, underwent yoga and balance training. Those in the first group showed that their oxygen intake improved by 18%, and the elasticity of the left ventricular muscle of their heart improved by 25%.
So what’s the significance of that particular muscle’s elasticity? "When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber doesn't fill as well with blood,” said Dr. Benjamin Levine, one of the researchers. “In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That's when heart failure develops."
However, Dr. Levine did notice from previous studies that the training hardly made an impact if it was started after the age of 65. Thus, middle-aged people who want to maintain their cardiovascular health best start exercising before retirement kicks in.
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