Endurance Exercises Make the Heart Younger

Originally written: August 2008
Updated: April 2018

Elderly individuals who perform endurance exercises strengthen their hearts and increase their longevity, according to a 2008 study.

As aging occurs, it is typical for the strength and health of the heart to deteriorate. Exercise in elderly people has been shown to increase overall health and longevity, helping prevent debilitating diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease among others. This study is the first however to look specifically at the health of the hearts mechanisms due to exercise in elderly individuals.

Specifically, heart metabolism was analyzed in elderly patients during the study. A drug called dubotamine, which makes the heart race as if exercise was being performed, was first administered to certain “sedentary” elderly individuals. The effects on energy and overall heart health were not seen to improve with the administration of dubotamine.

When subjected to endurance exercises though, the hearts of these elderly individuals clearly improved their function. The exercise regiment consisted of walking, running or cycling for one hour per day, three to five days per week. The results showed, much as in a “younger heart,” that with exercising “the participants’ hearts doubled their glucose uptake during high-energy demand.” In an aging and deteriorating heart, this function of taking in glucose to satisfy energy needs is not performed properly, which increases the risk of heart attacks.

While the effects of exercise on the heart were positive in both men and women, they were most pronounced in women. This is possibly due to the fact that the muscles in a man’s heart tends to “thicken” more than a women’s during exercise, which limits the energy response. Nonetheless, this study provides more reason for elderly people to stay active. Not only does the heart remain stronger, but overall quality of life can remain high in old age by fending off or controlling other conditions, like diabetes.

Original Source: Ericson, Gwen. American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology news release. July 2008.

Update: A 2014 study further confirmed the positive role of physical activity in limiting cardiovascular disease(CVD) in elderly individuals.

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