Most of us know working out is good for our hearts, but sometimes there just isn't enough time to fit in a good session. However, a recent study might convince you to make time for it — if it means making your heart decades younger than your actual age.
The January 2018 research, published in Circulation, found that exercising may help restore an aging heart in a middle-aged person, even if that person wasn't super active earlier in life. The researchers took folks between the ages of 45 and 64 who were mostly sedentary — or relatively inactive — and enrolled them in randomly assigned exercise groups. One group did non-aerobic exercise — including yoga, balance training, and weight training — three times a week. The other group's participants were assigned a trainer and did moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise four or more days per week.
After the two years were up, the group that was part of the higher-intensity exercise program saw dramatic improvements in their heart health. As lead researcher Ben Levine, MD described it, their hearts essentially became more like younger hearts — being less stiff than they were before and processing oxygen much more efficiently.
"We took these 50-year-old hearts and turned the clock back to 30- or 35-year-old hearts," said Dr. Levine. "And the reason they got so much stronger and fitter was because their hearts could now fill a lot better and pump a lot more blood during exercise."
He says that the heart health of the participants involved in the less intense exercise routines didn't change much. But for the folks involved in the more intense exercise program, Levine said interval training — short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by a few minutes of rest — was key to their training.
"It's an old Norwegian ski team workout," Levine said. "It means four minutes at 95 percent of your maximal ability, followed by three minutes of active recovery, repeated four times."
But before you start googling "Norwegian ski team workout" and plan to follow it to a T starting tomorrow, keep in mind that this study was small. More research is needed to see what specific aspects of an exercise routine make the biggest improvements in heart health.
If you're interested in trying exercise for the first time, be sure to talk to your doctor about what's appropriate for you and what would help you reap the most health benefits. But if you've never done it before, you might not want to wait to have that important conversation.
"The sweet spot in life to get off the couch and start exercising is in late middle age when the heart still has plasticity," Levine said.
Like to work out in the morning? Learn the healthiest breakfast cereals to eat afterward in the video below: