High-Intensity Exercise Can Turn 50-Year-Old Hearts Into 30- Or 35-Year-Old Hearts, Says Benjamin Levine, M.D.

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If you want a younger heart, hit up a high-intensity exercise class. Those are the findings of Benjamin Levine, M.D., according to NPR. Levine has noted that the efficiency of the heart to process oxygen can decline once a person reaches 50 years of age or older — or even younger for folks who do not exercise. However, Levine’s new study, published in the American Heart Association’s Circulation journal, determined that higher-intensity workouts literally made hearts function as younger, more pliable and flexible hearts.

Levin, who serves as Dallas’ director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and as a cardiologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, noted that the heart and blood vessels can dry up like a rubber band locked away in a drawer when not put to good use. As a result, folks who don’t exercise might end up trying to catch their breath or experience heart failure symptoms.

But even those who reach 50 years of age and haven’t worked out quite a bit during their lives can benefit from adopting an exercise lifestyle, says the doctor. The findings published in the American Heart Association’s journal examined people from 45 years of age to 64 years of age who were healthy enough for exercise but lived primarily sedentary lives.

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After signing up for the two-year study, the participants were separated into one group that was assigned non-aerobic exercises like yoga, weight training, and balance training three times a week — while the other study participants received a trainer that led them through moderate or high-intensity aerobic exercise at least four times per week or more.

The most heart-healthy benefits were realized by the latter group — the participants who performed the higher-intensity training at least four times per week. Levine noted that the study took “50-year-old hearts and turned the clock back to 30- or 35-year-old hearts.” The participants in the latter group grew stronger and fitter because their hearts were able to pump blood better and fill with blood better.

The routines that included less intense workouts did not change the hearts as dramatically. The interval training was integral to improving heart health, according to Levine. At least four minutes of short bursts of high-intensity exercise, working out at 95 percent of the person’s maximum capacity, followed by resting for several minutes — repeated four times — made the difference. However, folks more than 70 years of age may not experience the same benefits, but Levine notes that larger studies need to be undertaken. He also cautioned that people who want to engage in high-intensity exercise should first consult their physicians to ensure they are healthy enough to adopt such a program.

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