A new study suggests that physical activity can reverse heart damage and help reduce the risk of heart failure as you age – if you get enough exercise and begin it in time. This research was conducted by cardiologists at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, a collaboration between the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, both in Dallas.
The study involved 53 participants aged 45 to 64 from the Dallas Heart Study, divided into two groups. For two years, one group participated in supervised exercise training and the other group participated in yoga and balance training. At the end of the study, those in the first group experienced 18 percent improvement in their maximum oxygen intake during exercise and more than 25 percent improvement in elasticity of the heart’s left ventricular muscle. (Sedentary aging can cause this muscle to stiffen, leading to heart failure.)
According to the researchers, to get the benefits of the exercise regimen, you should begin before age 65, when your heart retains some plasticity and ability to remodel itself. In addition, you should exercise four to five times a week for at least 30 minutes per session, plus warm-ups and cool-downs. Earlier studies from the same research program suggest there’s little benefit if you wait until after 65 to start such an exercise program.