Proper Exercise Can Reverse Damage From Heart Aging


Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

Summary: According to a new study by cardiologists, exercise can reverse damage to sedentary, aging hearts and help prevent risk of future heart failure – if it’s enough exercise, and if it’s begun in time.


Poor fitness in middle age is a risk factor for heart failure, particularly heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction (a measurement of the percentage of blood leaving your heart each time it contracts). Increased left ventricular stiffness, a consequence of sedentary aging may likely result in the development of heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction. According to a new study by cardiologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center, exercise can reverse damage to sedentary, aging hearts and help prevent risk of future heart failure – if it’s enough exercise, and if it’s begun in time. The study reports – to reap the most benefit, the exercise regimen should begin by late middle age (before age 65), when the heart apparently retains some plasticity and ability to remodel itself. The study findings were published in the journal Circulation.

exercise can reverse damage to sedentary, aging hearts and help prevent risk of future heart failure

Dr. Levine, shown here in front of his laboratory’s hyper/hypobaric environmental chamber, which is used to simulate high altitude, deep diving, and space-like conditions in studies of human performance. Credit: UTSW

The regimen included exercising 4-5 times a week, generally in 30-minute sessions, plus warmup and cool-down:

  • One of the weekly sessions included a high-intensity 30-minute workout, such as aerobic interval sessions in which heart rate tops 95 percent of peak rate for 4 minutes, with 3 minutes of recovery, repeated four times (a so-called “4 x 4”).
  • Each interval session was followed by a recovery session performed at relatively low intensity.
  • One day’s session lasted an hour and was of moderate intensity. (As a “prescription for life,” Levine said this longer session could be a fun activity such as tennis, aerobic dancing, walking, or biking.)
  • One or two other sessions were performed each week at a moderate intensity, meaning the participant would break a sweat, be a little short of breath, but still be able to carry on a conversation—the “talk test.” In the study, exercise sessions were individually prescribed based on exercise tests and heart rate monitoring.
  • One or two weekly strength training sessions using weights or exercise machines were included on a separate day, or after an endurance session.

Prof. Benjamin D.Levine said, “When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber doesn’t fill as well with blood. In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That’s when heart failure develops” and further added, “I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene – just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”


More Information: Erin J. Howden et al, “Reversing the Cardiac Effects of Sedentary Aging in Middle Age—A Randomized Controlled Trial: Implications For Heart Failure Prevention”, Circulation (2017). https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.030617


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