Clearly, it's not for everyone, but new research shows that if you consistently exercise for 30 minutes or more four of five times per week, chances are your heart and major arteries will stay young and flexible as you age. While less frequent exercise still has many health benefits, it seems to take high frequency exercise to keep the biggest arteries in the body from stiffening with age.
Cardio-box class; one form of heart-healthy exercise
Credit: Universidad Europea de Madrid
The new research, published in the Journal of Physiology, studied the lifelong exercise patterns of 102 men and women 60 years old or over. The researchers divided the participants into four groups--sedentary, casual exercisers, committed exercisers and master athletes, based on how frequently they had exercised over time. The results were clear--casual exercisers (two to three times per week) showed some heart and artery benefits, but it took four or more exercise sessions per week to be associated with preserved flexibility of the major vessels such as the carotid artery.
Human heart and major blood vessels
Credit: Bryan Brandenburg
Of course, these cross-sectional findings alone can't pin down cause and effect, and the study was not designed to sort out other factors that might influence heart and arterial health, such as the type or intensity of exercise, diet or social and economic factors. However, they strongly suggest that consistent frequent exercise can help keep a person's heart and central arteries healthy and flexible into the later decades of life.
The researchers are using these preliminary findings as a guidepost towards exercise programs that could make a positive difference to people who don't have a lifelong history of frequent and consistent exercise. Benjamin Levine, at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Texas in Dallas, hopes not just to preserve heart health, but to turn back the ravages of time. "Our current work is focusing on two years of training in middle aged men and women, with and without risk factors for heart diseases, to see if we can reverse the ageing of a heart and blood vessels by using the right amount of exercise at the right time."
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