It’s never too late to improve your health with physical activity, based on a recent study that found that incorporating exercise in your 50s helps boost fitness and protect against heart failure.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study tested the effects of new exercise routines in healthy but sedentary middle-aged adults. The goal was to see whether increasing exercise, even in your 50s, can improve heart function and help protect against heart failure.
Heart failure occurs when the heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. Heart failure is especially common in older adults and currently affects an estimated 5.7 million Americans.
The recent study included 61 middle-aged employees from Texas Health Resources and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who were all healthy but had very little or no regular physical activity. The average age of participants was 53, and roughly half were female.
Half of participants were randomly assigned to a two-year personalized exercise program that steadily increased up to 5–6 hours of training a week. The program incorporated aerobic and strength training and included activities such as running on a treadmill, biking and swimming.
The second half of participants were assigned to a control program, which was less intensive and focused on balance and flexibility. The program included yoga, balance and strength training three times a week for two years.
Researchers tracked participants’ fitness and heart function over the study period to detect any changes in their cardiovascular health.
After two years, researchers found the intensive exercise program increased participants’ fitness levels by 18%. The exercise program also helped reduce heart stiffness, which is an important indicator of heart function and risk for heart failure. In general, the stiffer the heart the poorer the heart function and the greater the risk for heart failure.
Researchers found no change in fitness or heart stiffness among participants in the balance and flexibility group.
What this study shows, according to authors, is that increasing physical activity in middle-age could have significant cardiovascular benefits. Guidelines recommend at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise to promote better health. Working toward this goal, even in your 50s or 60s, could both improve fitness and reduce risk for conditions like heart failure.