Exercise can reverse heart damage

Exercise can reverse heart damage and prevent risk of future cardiac failure, new research has found.

Researchers out of Texas, USA, found that if a person begins a fitness regimen early enough, the heart still has enough plasticity to benefit.

The study

Cardiologists divided more than 50 participants into two groups. One group had supervised exercise, while the other, a control group, performed yoga and balance training.

After two years, the exercise group showed an 18 per cent improvement in their maximum oxygen intake during exercise.

In addition, this group had a 25 per cent improvement in the function of the left ventricular of the heart. This is the part of the heart responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood out into the body. ‘Sedentary aging’ or growing older without regular exercise can lead to the left ventricle becoming stiff, which puts people at risk of heart failure.

“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,” said senior author Dr. Benjamin Levine.

The exercise regimen used in the study consisted of four or five weekly sessions, each around 30 minutes. The type of exercise varied but consisted of combining high-intensity sessions with low- and moderate-intensity ones.

One weekly workout was a high-intensity interval aerobic training, followed by a recovery session.

Once or twice a week, there would be a strength training session using free weights or machines.

Another session would be at a lower intensity, often a fun activity or sport, such as dancing, walking, cycling or playing tennis.

Other sessions included moderate intensity workout where participants would break a sweat but still could talk with one another (called the ‘talk test’).

The study suggests that if people begin exercising before late middle age (around 65), they can benefit. Afterwards may be too late.

In addition, the exercise regimen needs to be performed at least four to five times a week — just a couple of times is not enough.

“Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past five 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.”

This study has been published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.


Erin J. Howden et al. (2018.) ‘Reversing the Cardiac Effects of Sedentary Aging in Middle Age—A Randomized Controlled Trial: Implications For Heart Failure Prevention.’ Circulation. January 9, 2018, Volume 137, Issue 2.

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