Last updated January 31, 2018 at 4:31 pm
But you will have to commit to getting active four to five times a week.
Sitting around all the time is bad for your heart – it makes the muscle shrink and stiffen as you age.
“When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber doesn’t fill as well with blood,” says Benjamin D. Levine, founder and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine.
“In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That’s when heart failure develops.”
Dr Levine is also the lead author on a study that found that exercise – if begun in time, and completed frequently enough – can reverse this effect into middle age.
“The key to a healthier heart in middle age is the right dose of exercise, at the right time in life.”
Looking for the exercise ‘sweet spot’
His team studied the hearts of 53 people between the ages of 45 and 64 after assigning them either an aerobic training schedule, or a yoga and balance exercise schedule as a control. The experiment group built up their training from three times a week to four or five times.
“We found that exercising only two or three times a week didn’t do much to protect the heart against ageing. But committed exercise four to five times a week was almost as effective at preventing sedentary heart ageing as the more extreme exercise of elite athletes,” he said.
The study lasted two years, by which time the aerobic exercisers experienced greater than 25 per cent improvement in heart elasticity, and an 18 per cent improvement in their maximum oxygen intake during exercise.
“We found what we believe to be the optimal dose of the right kind of exercise, which is four to five times a week, and the ‘sweet spot’ in time, when the heart risk from a lifetime of sedentary behaviour can be improved – which is late-middle age, when the heart still has plasticity. The result was a reversal of decades of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart for most of the study participants.”
So what is the prescription to slow ageing?
Levine practices what he preaches: “This ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life. I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene – just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”
So just what is this prescription? Out of the four or five weekly sessions, three of them must be:
- A half-hour high intensity interval workout known as a “4 x 4”. In this workout, your heart rate should top 95 per cent of peak rate for four minutes, followed by three minutes of recovery, four times
- A low intensity recovery session the following day
- An hour of moderate intensity – and the authors suggest something fun like tennis, dancing, or cycling.
The other sessions can then be made up of moderately intense sessions where you break a sweat but can still carry a conversation plus additional strength training sessions.
This research was published in American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.