The right amount of exercise at the right time can reverse the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, a new UT Southwestern Medical Center study shows. In a new Circulation study, researchers show how beginning a regimen of regular physical activity can improve heart health, even if a person has been mostly sedentary up until that point.
Life devoid of exercise can lead to a stiff left ventricle, the heart muscle responsible for pushing blood packed with oxygen to the entire body. Left ventricle stiffening is one of many factors that contribute toward risk of heart failure.
"When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber doesn't fill as well with blood,” explained senior author Dr. Benjamin Levine. “In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That's when heart failure develops.”
A new, five-year study of 53 participants between the ages of 45 and 64 shows how important exercise is for heart health, as well as the significance of the timeline for getting active. Researchers say that introducing regular exercise into one’s lifestyle will glean the best health results if done before age 65.
During the study, researchers divided participants into two groups: an exercise training group and a yoga and balance group, which would serve as the control group. At the end of the study, participants from the exercise training group experienced an average 18 percent improvement in maximum oxygen intake and 25 percent improvement in left ventricular compliance. The latter is an improvement made to the stiffened parts of the heart muscle.
Over the course of several months, the exercise training group worked toward completing one workout four to five times per week. The workout could be any of the following:
High-intensity 30-minute workout followed by a recovery session, relatively low intensity
Hour-long workout of moderate intensity like tennis, walking, or biking
Strength training sessions, weights or exercise machines
Levine emphasizes the importance of exercising at least four to five times per week, saying that anything less is not good enough to effectively lower the risk of heart failure in high-risk individuals.
"I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene,” Levine said. “Just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”