A year of committed exercise in middle age reversed worrisome heart failure

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In a new study from Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas, researchers found a year of exercise training helped to preserve or increase the youthful elasticity of the heart muscle among people showing early signs of heart failure.

The new research bolsters the idea that “exercise is medicine,” an important shift in approach.

The study focused on a condition called heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which affects about half of the 6 million people in the United States with heart failure.

Characterized by increasing stiffness of the heart muscle and high pressures inside the heart during exercise, the condition is largely untreatable once established and causes fatigue, excess fluid in the lungs and legs, and shortness of breath.

Previous studies show prolonged exercise training could improve heart elasticity in younger people, but that it had no effect on heart stiffness in people 65 and older.

So, the researchers wondered if committed exercise could improve heart stiffness in healthy, sedentary men and women ages 45 to 64.

The study included 31 people who showed some thickening of the heart muscle and an increase in blood biomarkers linked to heart failure, even though they had no symptoms such as shortness of breath.

Eleven were assigned to a control group and prescribed a program of yoga, balance and strength training three times a week.

The rest were assigned to an individually tailored exercise regimen of walking, cycling or swimming that built gradually until the participants were doing intensive aerobic interval training for at least 30 minutes at least twice a week, plus two to three moderate-intensity training sessions and one to two strength-training sessions each week.

Everyone had a personal trainer or exercise physiologist to monitor their training.

After a year, the people doing the vigorous exercise training showed a big improvement in measures of cardiac stiffness and cardiorespiratory fitness, compared to no change in the control group.

The results suggest late middle age may be a “sweet spot” for using exercise to prevent heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, before the heart gets too stiff.

Researchers can’t determine from the new study whether these people will go on to develop heart failure; larger studies will be needed for that.

In addition, it isn’t easy for people to stick to an exercise program, and the intensive intervention studied may be difficult and expensive to replicate on a large scale.

Since this type of heart failure can be so hard to treat, the new results could help clinicians in counseling their patients.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about this diabetes drug could help treat most people with heart failure and findings of this diet could prevent or even reverse heart failure.

For more information about heart disease, please see recent studies about these high blood pressure drugs linked to higher risk of heart failure and results showing that these common foods could make heart failure more dangerous.

The study is published in Circulation. One author of the study is Dr. Benjamin Levine.

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