It’s no secret that exercise is good for us. It helps our brains stay sharp, lowers cancer rates, and it’s great for cellular health. It’s also excellent for our hearts, which we know from cardiovascular exercise – the physical work we do that raises our heart rate. Unfortunately, as we age, our hearts do not remain the efficient machines they used to be. It’s probably no surprise that exercise is a great way to preserve a healthy heart. The trouble is, so many of us forego exercise. What’s worse, our lifestyles these days usually involves desk-work, which means not only are we not drumming up our heart rates to high levels, we’re not even raising them moderately in daily movement, either.
But a new study released in the journal Circulation revealed that in middle age there’s a window to quickly repair and uphold heart health to carry us through senior years. That means, there’s a way to undo the effects from desk life.
The biology of the heart is such that the left heart ventricular muscle is responsible for pumping the oxygen enriched blood. When we exercise, we’re taking in oxygen, and supporting this process, but when we lead the typical American sedentary lifestyle, the heart becomes stiff and less efficient. In our senior years, our hearts become stiff anyway, and that means we pump less blood, which isn’t good – it often leads to heart failure. But exercise promotes elasticity instead of stiffness, so not only do you get more oxygen, the muscle is youthful, providing adequate, healthy blood.
The study examined 53 people between the ages 45 and 64, prime middle age, who did not engage in regular exercise and divided them into two parts: one undertaking with cardiovascular exercise, and the other performing balance and strength, like yoga. The program for both groups was four to five days per week of their assigned exercise, for two years. The findings showed no improvement in the balance group’s heart health, but the cardiovascular group had amazing improvements: an 18 percent increase of maximum oxygen intake, and a 25 percent increase in the left ventricular muscle’s elasticity.
In fact, these improvements negate the effects on the heart from decades of sedentary lifestyle. This means that if you’re in your fifties or sixties, it’s not too late to have a youthful heart in old age. Incorporating four to five days of cardiovascular exercise per week will significantly lower your chances of heart failure in older years.