Now there is good news for those who fear it might be too late in life to improve their fitness.
People into late middle age can reverse or reduce the risk of heart failure caused by decades of sedentary living by exercising, a study has found.
But there is a catch – it takes two years of aerobic exercise, four to five days a week, researchers said.
The study, published in the journal Circulation, analysed the hearts of 53 adults aged 45-64 who were healthy but had no history of exercising regularly.
Research has shown that sedentary behaviours – such as sitting or reclining for long periods of time – increase the risk of heart disease.
The study’s participants were divided into two groups, with one following an aerobic exercise routine that progressed in intensity over the two years and another doing yoga, balance training and weight training three times a week, also for two years.
The aerobic exercise group showed an 18% improvement in their maximum oxygen intake during exercise and a more than 25% improvement in “plasticity” in the left ventricular muscle of the heart – both markers of a healthier heart.
However, the benefits were not seen in the second group.
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.
“We found what we believe to be the optimal dose of the right kind of exercise, which is four to five times a week, and the ‘sweet spot’ in time, when the heart risk from a lifetime of sedentary behaviour can be improved – which is late-middle age.
“The result was a reversal of decades of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart for most of the study participants.”
Participants exercised generally in 30-minute sessions, plus a warm-up and cool-down.
Their routine included:
- One high-intensity aerobic session, such as four-by-four interval training where participants did four sets of four minutes of exercise at 95% of their maximum heart rate followed by three minutes of active recovery at 60-75% peak heart rate
- Two or three days a week of moderate intensity exercise (where exercisers sweat but can still carry on a conversation)
- At least one weekly strength training session
- At least one long session of aerobic exercise a week, such as an hour of tennis, cycling, running, dancing or brisk walking
They built up to those levels, beginning with three 30-minute moderate exercise sessions for the first three months after which high intensity exercise was included.
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