Researchers have found evidence that exercising not only keeps you young at heart, but can also return your heart to its youthful self!
A study in The Journal of Physiology showed that people over 60, who exercised 2-3 times per week, for at least 30 minutes at a time for many years, had more "youthful" hearts, arteries and vessels than those who didn't. Those who exercised 4-5 times per week, had even more "youthful" looking hearts.
Exercise is Good for The Heart
One of the consequences of aging without exercise, is the stiffening of your large arteries, which increases the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular related mortality in older adults.
Study author Dr. Benjamin Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, says "this work is really exciting because it enables us to develop exercise programs to keep the heart youthful and even turn back time on older hearts and blood vessels."
His research showed that people who exercised on average 2-3 times per week had more "youthful" looking middle sized arteries, which supply oxygen to the heart and neck. Those who exercised 4 times per week had less stiffness in their larger arteries.
Unfortunately, the research only looked at how often a person exercised, not the type of exercise that was done, or its intensity. Nor were the participants diets or socio-economic strata taken into account.
Levine did say that his team's previous research did show that waiting until your 70's was too late to reverse an aging heart, as it is "difficult to change cardiovascular structure even with a year of training." However, his next step is to research whether 2 years of exercise training in your middle age can reverse an aging heart and arteries.
Better Late Than Never
Dr. Levine's research is consistent with new research coming out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that demonstrates that even moderate exercise, of 150 minutes a week, can reduce your risk of heart failure in just 6 years.
The Johns Hopkins study, demonstrated that moderate activity like "brisk walking or biking, in middle age may be enough to reduce your heart failure risk by 31 percent," said senior author Dr. Chiadi Ndumele.
"Additionally, going from no exercise to recommended activity levels over six years in middle age may reduce heart failure risk by 23 percent," he added.
On the flip-side, if you go from heavy exercise to no exercise for 6 years, you'll significantly increase your risk of heart failure.
Heart failure is different than a heart attack. With a heart attack, heart muscle dies. Heart failure means the heart has trouble pumping blood throughout your body. Risks associated with heart failure include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.
The American Heart Association has a great web page on recommended exercises, frequency and intensity to improve your cardiovascular health. Bottom line, if nothing else, walk. It's easy, free, social and can be done anywhere, anytime.