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Consistent exercise can reverse heart damage or older adults

Cardiologists at UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources are reporting that the right amount of exercise can reverse heart damage in older patients. If the regimen is started in time, the therapeutic effects of exercise can help to prevent the risk of heart failure.

The research team set out to determine if exercise can restore the heart’s elasticity in sedentary individuals. Earlier research by senior author Dr. Benjamin Levine and his team showed significant improvements in cardiac plasticity in young individuals, but showed very little change if the exercise training was started after age 65.

The doctors explain that in order to reap the most benefit, the exercise should be started before age 65 when the heart is still somewhat elastic and has the ability to be reshaped.

“Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past 5 years, this ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life,” said Dr. Levine. “I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene – just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”

Dr. Levine recommends exercising at least four to five times a week, as his team established that two to three times a week is not enough. The exercise routine should consist of 30-minute sessions plus warm-up and cool-down periods.

The experts previously conducted a two-year study which was focused on 50 participants. The individuals were divided into two groups, including one group that received supervised exercise training and another group who received yoga and balance training.

After two years, those who had received exercise training showed an 18 percent improvement in their maximum oxygen intake during exercise and a more than 25 percent improvement in the elasticity of the left ventricular muscle of the heart. Dr. Levine compared this transformation to a new, stretchy rubber band as opposed to an old, stiff rubber band.

Sedentary aging can result in the stiffening of heart’s left ventricular muscle, which pumps oxygen-rich blood back out into the body.

“When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber doesn’t fill as well with blood,” said Dr. Levine. “In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That’s when heart failure develops.”

The study is published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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