It happens to everyone
As we age, the heart becomes less flexible, more stiff and just isn’t as efficient in processing oxygen as it used to be. In most people, the first signs show up in the 50s or early 60s. And among people who don’t exercise, these changes can start even sooner. According to Dr. Ben Levine, a sports cardiologist at University of Texas, the heart gets smaller and stiffer. This stiffness can lead to breathlessness and other symptoms of heart failure. Fortunately, a recent study done by Levine finds that even if you haven’t been an avid exerciser, getting in shape in midlife may head off that decline and help you have a younger heart.
The research recruited individuals between the ages of 45 and 64 who were mostly sedentary but otherwise healthy. 53 volunteers undertook the two-year study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group engaged in a program of nonaerobic exercise- basic yoga, balance training, and weight training- three times a week. The other group was assigned a trainer and did moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise for four or more days a week. After two years, the group doing the higher-intensity exercise saw dynamic improvements to heart health. The hearts of those engaged in less intense routines didn’t change.
Keys to a younger heart
A key part of the effective exercise regimen was interval training. Short bursts of high-intensity exercises followed by a few minutes of rest are key (4X4 intervals). Pushing as hard as you can for four minutes stresses the heart and forces it to function more efficiently. Repeating the intervals helps strengthen both the heart and circulatory system. And the sweet spot in life to get off the couch and start exercising is in late middle age when the heart still has plasticity. You may not be able to reverse the aging of the vessel if you wait.
Of course, if you’re considering beginning a strenuous exercise program, you should check with a doctor first and ask about individual health issues that might warrant a less intense program initially.
What drives you to exercise?