Regular exercise may reverse damage to ageing heart, prevent cardiac failure


Earlier research by UT Southwestern cardiologists showed that left ventricular stiffening often shows up in middle age in people who don't exercise and aren't fit, leaving them with small, stiff chambers that can't pump blood as well. The other 24 participants were part of a control group that did yoga or stretching three times a week instead. In addition, exercise physiologists met participants monthly throughout the intervention as training frequency, duration, and intensity progressed over time.

Fifty-three study participants (45-64 years old) built up to those levels, beginning with three, 30-minute, moderate exercise sessions for the first 3 months and peaked at 10 months when two high-intensity aerobic intervals were added.

Another potential limitation is that study participants were for the most part Caucasian, which questions whether these results would apply to other racial groups.

If you're a couch potato anxious about your heart, you can take charge and reverse damage that's already occurred if you begin in time, says a new study by cardiologists at UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources. One participated in supervised cardiovascular workouts.

Of those four-to-five weekly sessions, one needs to be a high-intensity 30-minute workout structured around a "4x4" pattern: four four-minute bursts of cardio where your heart rate tops 95 percent of its maximum, each one followed by moderate-intensity intervals of active recovery lasting three minutes.

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On days after that interval training, experts prescribed more gentle recovery days - the participants might walk for 20-30 minutes or do a light aerobic workout. "As a 'prescription for life, ' this longer session could be a fun activity such as tennis, aerobic dancing, walking, or biking".

People in their 50s and early 60s can regain the heart health of someone decades younger through a regular and reasonable aerobic exercise program, no matter how long they've been inactive, the study authors said. The goal is to break a sweat but not get out of breath. Another session or two concentrated on strength training using weights or exercise machines.

"This study also demonstrated that exercise training can be adhered to by middle-aged adults over a prolonged period, suggesting that this may be an effective strategy to mitigate the deleterious effects of sedentary aging on the heart and forestall the development of heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction", Levine and colleagues said.

Dr. Levine, shown here in front of his laboratory's hyper/hypobaric environmental chamber, which is used to simulate high altitude, deep diving, and space-like conditions in studies of human performance....

"We've also found that the "sweet spot" in life to get off the couch and start exercising is in late-middle age, when the heart still has plasticity".

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The study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was published online January 8 in the journal Circulation.

"We found casual exercise, two or three days a week, was simply not enough to preserve the youthfulness of the structure of the heart", Levine said.

Dr Levine told the BBC his team would next look at whether the same kind of improvements shown in the study can be made in people at high risk of heart failure, such as those with high blood pressure or diabetes and those who are obese. In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs.

Additionally, exercise increased LV end-diastolic volume, whereas pulmonary capillary wedge pressure was unchanged, meaning patients gained a greater stroke volume for any given filling pressure, Levine's group said. It's also best to keep it simple if you don't want to get overly complicated about it.

The authors also recommend diversification in the training regime so there's a lower risk of getting bored and missing workouts.

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