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Upping aerobic exercise in middle age can reverse heart disease risk

Tuesday 16th January 2018
The health impact of a sedentary lifestyle can be reversed in middle age with intensive aerobic exercise, according to a new study. Image: matthewennisphotography via iStock
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Middle-aged people can potentially prevent themselves from being diagnosed with heart disease in later life by taking up exercise, a new study suggests.

Research carried out by scientists from the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine in the US has found that the health impact of a long-term sedentary lifestyle can be reversed, even if an individual does not begin exercising regularly until their 50s.

For the study, 53 participants aged between 45 and 64 were divided into two groups. All were deemed to be healthy, but did no regular exercise. One group was given a progressively intensive aerobic exercise plan to complete over a two-year period, while the other was asked to do yoga, balance exercises and weight training three times a week during the same timeframe.

At the end of the two years, it was found that those who had completed the aerobic exercise programme had improved their heart health significantly more than their counterparts in the other study group.

Members of the aerobic group had typically decreased the stiffness of their heart muscle, meaning their body was able to use oxygen more efficiently, putting them at a lower risk of future heart disease. Overall, the average improvement in oxygen intake came in at 18 per cent, while the plasticity of their hearts increased by more than 25 per cent on average.

This therefore indicates that aerobic exercise, performed four to five times a week, is much more effective for middle-aged individuals wanting to improve their cardiovascular health than 'gentler' exercise like yoga and balance training.

Lead author of the study Dr Benjamin Levine summarised: "The key to a healthier heart in middle age is the right dose of exercise, at the right time in life."

Julie Ward, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, added: "A much larger study is needed to evaluate these findings in specific people who are at risk of developing heart failure.

"What we do know is that moderate intensity exercise, at any age, can improve your heart health as well as lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol and helping you lose excess weight."

Written by Mathew Horton

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