Exercise makes the heart grow younger

August 4, 2008 by  

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As we grow older, our body and its organs deteriorate. Including our heart. Now, is there in any way that we can slow down, even reverse our heart’s aging process?

Researchers at the Washington University at St. Louis may just have found the secret to eternal youth and it’s none of the power pills that you take or the power beverages that you drink. Surprise, surprise – it’s endurance exercise.

The research involved 12 participants – 6 males and 6 females aged 60 and 75. The participants were of normal weight but not physically active.

The researchers compared two treatments among non-active older adults: the effects of exercise training on the heart vs the effects of dobutamine, a drug that increases the heart rate similar to what happens during an exercise.

Endurance exercise training was defined as

walking, running or cycling exercises three to five days a week for about an hour per session.

Dobutamine induced increased energy demands, but the hearts of the study participants did not increase their blood sugar (glucose) uptake for more energy. This is how an aging heart would react.

Endurance exercise however resulted in higher glucose uptake by the participants’ hearts. This increased in blood sugar uptake – about double the energy demand of a heart at rest – is what young hearts do.

Lead author Pablo Soto explains:

…if heart muscle doesn’t take in glucose in response to increased energy needs, it goes into an energy-deprived state, which may raise the risk of heart attack. But if it can increase glucose uptake, the heart is better protected against ischemia (low oxygen) and heart attack.

The participants underwent 11 months of exercise training guided by a professional trainer. During the first 3 months, exercise was up 65% of the participants’ capacity. It was then increased to 75%, with no major problems. In fact, the participants reported feeling fit and young.

Many other studies have found strong links between exercise and aging. Nature News reported about a UK study that showed how physical activity keeps us young while an inactive lifestyle shortens our life. They used one biological measure of aging which is the length of telomeres at the end of our chromosomes. Telomeres protect our DNA from wearing down and tend to get shorter as we age.

The research went on to show that people who regularly engaged in exercise and are nonsmokers have longer telomeres compared to those who are inactive, overweight and smokers. The biological age difference based on telomere length differences can be as high as 10 years.

Now, who wouldn’t want to live a decade longer?

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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