Exercise 4 times a week: the recipe for heart health

Frequent exercise may be what it takes to reverse the aging of the heart.

Recent research has attempted to pinpoint the amount of exercise necessary to keep the heart young.

As we age, the heart’s arteries and blood vessels can stiffen, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Exercise of any kind reduces the risk of dying from heart problems. However, this new study sought to quantify the amount of exercise necessary.

It found that different levels of exercise affect the size of the heart’s arteries.

For example, exercising for two-to-three days per week for at least 30 minutes may be enough to minimise the hardening of medium-sized arteries.

The study concluded, however, that exercising four-to-five days a week is required to prevent the larger, central arteries of the heart from stiffening.

The study

Researchers examined 102 people over the age of 60, placing the participants into four groups depending on their exercise history.

The groups were Sedentary (exercised less than twice a week), Casual (two-to-three exercise sessions a week), Committed (four-to-five times a week) and Master (six-to-seven times a week).

Results

After collating the results, the researchers found that a lifetime of casual exercise yielded younger-looking middle-sized heart arteries. These are the arteries that supply oxygenated blood to the head and neck.

However, exercisers who trained four-to-five times weekly not only had young middle-sized arteries but also had younger-looking large central arteries. These are the arteries that supply blood to the chest and abdomen.

These results suggest that the larger arteries of the heart need more frequent exercise to minimise the effects of aging.

“This work is really exciting because it enables us to develop exercise programmes to keep the heart youthful and even turn back time on older hearts and blood vessels,” said Benjamin Levine, one of the study’s authors.

Dr. Levine added that now the research team’s focus will be on reversing the aging of the heart by using “right amount of exercise at the right time”.

The new study has been published in the Journal of Physiology.

Reference

Shibata, S. (2018.) ‘The effect of lifelong exercise frequency on arterial stiffness.’ Journal of Physiology.
First published: 20 May 2018. https://doi.org/10.1113/JP275301

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