A small but significant study that looked specifically at heart function found that adults in their sixties who had actively engaged in exercise over the course of their lives had more youthful mid-sized and large central arteries, as compared to those who exercised less intensely or less often. Unlike other studies that look to improved risk factors such as lowered blood pressure and blood sugar for better cardiovascular health, this study, published in The Journal of Physiology, focused solely upon the effects of exercise frequency and intensity on heart muscle and blood vessel plasticity. The researchers found that those who routinely participated in moderate- to high-intensity exercise four or more days per week over a period of years decreased their “heart age” by 15 to 20 years.
Those with a history of exercising two to three times a week showed some benefit for mid-sized arteries that supply blood to the head and neck. However, those who exercised four to five times a week had healthier large central arteries that supply blood to the chest and abdomen. Even when we are healthy, as we age the heart and blood vessels naturally lose flexibility. This can result in breathlessness, reduced oxygen efficiency, and an inability to effectively pump blood to the lungs and throughout the body. While the study showed that any amount of exercise reduced the risk of heart problems, the right amount of exercise at the proper time appears to slow the cardiovascular aging process, increasing the chances of a longer, healthier lifespan.
Poor fitness in middle age is a risk factor for heart failure; largely through increased ventricular stiffness, a consequence of sedentary aging. The researchers concluded that those who develop a regular exercise routine ideally before age 65 may see dramatic improvements in heart and whole body health. Dr. Benjamin Levine, professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center and founding director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, recommends a high intensity workout at least once per week, moderately intense exercise two or three times a week, and an hour of fun physical activity on the weekend. Fortunately, for those in midlife who haven’t been avid exercisers, getting in shape now may head off decline and help restore an aging heart.
In a similar study recently published in the American Heart Association Journal Circulation, researchers discovered that previously sedentary healthy middle-aged adults who engaged in two years of exercise training improved their maximal oxygen intake and decreased cardiac stiffness. In conclusion, they noted that “Regular exercise training may provide protection against future risk of heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction by preventing the increase of cardiac stiffness attributable to sedentary aging.” No matter what your age, starting and sticking with a long-term exercise plan supports increased oxygen capacity, energy production and cardiovascular, psychological and physiological health. Perhaps, becoming physically active on a regular basis is a perfect example of what it truly means to be “young at heart.”
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Reversing the Cardiac Effects of Sedentary Aging in Middle Age—A Randomized Controlled Trial: Implications for Heart Failure Prevention. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/03/12/591513777/hearts-get-younger-even-at-middle-age-with-exercise
Exercising regularly ‘can keep heart and arteries young.’ http://www.bbc.com/news/health-44171204
Scientists have figured out exactly how much you need to exercise to slow your heart’s aging process. https://qz.com/1284072/the-right-exercise-to-slow-down-heart-disease-according-to-a-new-study/
Hearts Get ‘Younger,’ Even At Middle Age, With Exercise. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/03/12/591513777/hearts-get-younger-even-at-middle-age-with-exercise
What exercise can do for your heart. https://www.nutritionaction.com/daily/exercise-for-health/what-exercise-can-do-for-your-heart/