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Risk of Heart Failure Drops to Zero Through Exercise

Those who have lived a sedentary lifestyle for years have a higher risk of heart disease, such as heart failure. According to a Texan research team, this risk can be reduced, if not reduced to zero, by exercising!

Anyone who thinks twice and starts a sports program in their middle age can, within two years, reverse the damage that their previously sedentary lifestyle caused to their heart.

Bring movement into your life – even if you start today! I think that’s a pretty bold statement and really has some power behind it. It’s not too late to start!!!

Exercise Can Protect Against Heart Failure??

My friend had taken me to a class at our gym a while back, it had been years since I gave this workout thing a serious go.  I think I nearly died in that class! She almost became my EX-friend!!! She had told me prior, “don’t worry, it’s an easy class it will be so much fun!”. Was she high? There was nothing fun about nearly dying!!!  My heart was racing and I don’t think much oxygen was getting to my brain because I had to stop several times and bring my head to my knees. So this statement “exercise can protect against heart failure” would have seemed like a complete lie if someone told me that after my class. Apparently, I was the star student in the class! Not because I was awesome, but because I made everyone laugh! Ok, ok, I may have been overly dramatic in that class and probably for weeks afterward but I have never felt so out of shape before in my life. I truly pushed myself too hard, too fast.

What I was missing was the whole point of this experience. I was out of shape. Not the overweight, couch potato, out of shape, but the type of person that never got my heart rate high enough to understand the feeling of pushing myself like that. I have never liked cardio much so that feeling I had in the gym, was my heart being pushed and my body was responding in panic mode. “Like what the hell are you doing Jodi????”

It was my wake up call. I didn’t need to start off trying to be a bad ass, I just need to start…somewhere. Small steps in the right direction, bring large results and maintain a sense of success, which inadvertently serves as motivation. 

Once again, this prompted my research into what would seem like the obvious, the benefits of exercise and your heart. I wanted to understand the relationship and as I tend to be the science girl, I wanted studies and actual facts to support this claim that I sure as heck didn’t feel was true after my near death experience at the gym! Again, perhaps a bit dramatic, but you get where I’m going with this right?

A study by the University of Texas Southwestern shows that sports can mobilize the heart so well that a sedentary lifestyle for years will no longer have a negative effect. It was published on January 8, 2018, in Circulation magazine and says that a weekly sports program of at least four to five times a week can help the aging heart to recover and prevent heart diseases such as heart failure. 

In a previous study, the same research team had shown that training two to three days a week was not enough to protect the heart. So a regular routine of at least 4 times a week should be the goal you work towards when starting off.

The recipe for life: Exercise in the right dosage

“Based on a whole series of studies we have conducted on this subject over the past five years, I can say that my recipe for life is a sports program in the right dosage,” says study author Dr. Benjamin D. Levine, Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern. Levine believes that sport should be part of everyday life, as should daily showering and brushing teeth.

Heart Failure: Shortness of Breath at the Slightest Exertion

Heart failure is an extremely serious heart disease. It means that the body cells are no longer sufficiently supplied with oxygen and nutrients because the heart muscle is simply too weak to pump enough blood through the organism. Even when climbing stairs, you get breathless, cough more often and are often tired. Not even small walks are possible anymore. And even carrying your shopping bag into the house reminds you of a marathon.  It can go on like this for quite a while, making it easy to avoid really taking care of this condition.

Heart failure can develop slowly and become chronic. But it can also occur suddenly. It rarely affects young people. Most people over the age of 65 are confronted with a weakening heart.

In Germany alone, 1.5 to 2 million people live with heart failure – and only half of them will live longer than 5 years after diagnosis. Once the diagnosis has been made, it is much more difficult to change anything and turn back the clock. In most cases, a cardiac pacemaker is a treatment. Prevention is, therefore, the magic word and can be implemented with this sports programme.

Diagnosis of Heart Failure – What is it?

One measure of cardiac function is the so-called ejection fraction (EF). This indicates how much of the heart’s blood volume is actually ejected from the heart into the body at each heartbeat. The healthy average value is between 50 and 70 percent.

If the EF is 40 percent or less, this indicates heart failure. For 41 to 49 percent, it could be an onset of heart failure. However, other causes may have contributed to this decreased EF, such as a heart attack. However, EF can still be completely normal even with heart failure. It is referred to as heart failure with EF preserved (which is abbreviated to HFpEF). The “p” stands for “preserved” which means “preserved”.

Without Exercise, the Heart Becomes Stiffer and Stiffer

In their study, the Texas researchers led by Professor Levine state that HFpEF is often preceded by a loss of cardiac muscle elasticity. This increased “heart stiffness” seems to be the result of low fitness in middle age.

In earlier studies, cardiologists at the University of Texas Southwestern found that middle-aged sports muffs often have a rather small and stiff left ventricle. The stiffer a ventricle, the worse it can pump and the more likely it is to develop heart failure later in life.

In people who exercise four to five times a week, however, this stiffness of the left ventricle isn’t present. The ventricles are large and elastic.

Exercise can make the heart elastic again!

The elasticity of the heart can be restored even if it has already been lost – at least if you start training early. If you start at the age of 65, the successes are not as high and the regenerative capacity of the heart is lower than in people in their forties, fifties or early sixties.

Professor Levine’s current study involved 53 subjects between 45 and 64 years of age. Although they were (still) healthy, they had previously practiced a sedentary lifestyle without much exercise.

Some of the test persons (group 1) now had to undergo balance training and yoga on a regular basis for two years, as well as strength training three times a week.

The other part of the volunteers (group 2) performed an increasing exercise program with aerobic that was of medium and high intensity for two years – four to five times a week.

For example, the exercises consisted of four sets of four minutes each, during which the heart rate was recorded. The exercises were designed in such a way that the subjects trained for four minutes at 95 percent of their maximum heart rate, followed by three minutes of an active break during which the exercise was continued at a lower intensity. The maximum heart rate during these breaks was 60 to 75 percent.

Two years of intensive training – and the heart is less stiff!!

At the end of the study (after two years) group 2 was significantly fitter. The corresponding participants increased their performance in training by 18 percent (measured by their oxygen uptake rate). Much more exciting, however, was that the previously observed cardiac stiffness had also decreased.

In Group 1 these improvements could not be seen. So if you only do sports two or three times a week, you don’t seem to be doing so well against the aging process of the heart, says Professor Levine. At the same time, training four to five times a week can protect the heart from the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle almost as well as the typical extreme training of elite athletes.

The Exercise Program For The Heart

Professor Levine advises; training at the end of your fifties or in your early sixties at the latest, as the heart still has sufficient regenerative capacity at that time. Training should be done FOUR TO FIVE TIMES a week, without exception, the professor emphasizes.

He recommends the following procedure:

1-hour cycling, walking, playing tennis or aerobics in the gym -1 time a week
1 aerobic session per week with high intensity, e.g. the interval training described above
1 strength training per week
Additional 2 to 3 sessions per week with medium intensity, which means that you sweat while training, but you can still talk well, which is no longer possible at a high intensity.

Protect Yourself From Heart Failure With Sport!

The study involved people who were physically able to get off to a good start in exercise and who also had the desire to make a difference in their lives. Who are in their middle age, have not established an exercise routine but want to get moving! As always, definitely check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if heart failure is the motivating factor.  Then slowly begin and continuously increase.

What Does That Mean Exactly?

Start to train four to five times a week from the beginning, but only for a short time and with low intensity. Both the duration of the training and the intensity are then slowly increased. It would be ideal if you had a professional fitness trainer to create a tailor-made program for you.  Its just important to start, modify certain exercise moves if you need to. Starting a new habit takes a conscious effort, and once you get yourself into the routine of exercising, then its very easy to increase intensity.




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