Regular exercise may reverse effects of sedentary living

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It appears the right exercise at the right time in life can do wonders. A new study suggests that two years of regular moderate- to high-intensity activity in middle age can reverse the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart.

Researchers wanted to find out how exercise influences the health of middle-aged people who led an inactive, couch potato lifestyle. They analyzed the hearts of 53 men and women ages 45 to 64.

The participants were split into two groups. One group did yoga, balance exercises and weight training three times a week. The other group did a progressive program of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, high-intensity interval training, strength training and one long session of low-intensity activity at least four days a week as they worked through their two-year circuit. Both groups followed their exercise plan for the full two years.

Heart-healthy movement

The researchers found that the more active group became more fit. These people saw notable improvements in how their body used oxygen during exercise. And they had noticeably less cardiac stiffness, a long-term consequence of an inactive lifestyle.

Both measurements are markers of a healthier heart. The less active group didn’t experience either of these improvements.

The trick seemed to be exercising four or five times a week with a progressive pattern of development, peak and maintenance training over time. It’s an approach often taken by competitive athletes with similar heart-healthy results. And it seemed that middle age was an ideal time for sedentary adults to make these changes.

The researchers recommended an exercise routine similar to the one found to be successful in the study, with sessions each week of:

  • An hour of tennis, cycling, running, dancing or brisk walking.
  • One high-intensity interval training session.
  • Two or three days of moderate-intensity exercise that makes you break a sweat but still allows you to carry on a conversation.
  • At least one strength-training session.

The study did have limitations. First, all of the participants were willing and able to undertake an intensive exercise program, so the results might not apply to the general population. Secondly, most of the participants were Caucasian. It’s unclear if the results would apply to other racial groups.

The study was published in the journal Circulation.

Exercise and aging

Staying fit is important as you age. Do you know how physical activity changes as you get older? Take our quiz on exercise and aging.

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