It’s never too late to get heart-healthy


Good Health Choices - - Be Content -

If you’ve spent a large part of your life on the couch nurs­ing the TV re­mote, or if much of your work­ing day in­volves sit­ting at a desk, all is not lost! Be­cause it’s never too late to im­prove your health – at least when it comes to your heart.

New re­search has found even af­ter years of sit­ting down, men and women in mid­dleage can re­verse their risk of heart fail­ure

you need to ex­er­cise for four to five days a week, ev­ery week for your heart to reap the ben­e­fits mak­ing changes BE­FORE YOUR MID-60S CAN IM­PROVE HEART HEALTH AND let you EN­JOY A FIT­TER OLD AGE

and per­haps add years to their life. The se­cret? Reg­u­lar aer­o­bic ex­er­cise – both moder­ate and high-in­ten­sity – on four or more days a week.

The risk of heart dis­ease in­creases as we get older, par­tic­u­larly once we reach our 40s when the life­time risk of coro­nary heart dis­ease be­comes one in two for men and one in three for women. One risk fac­tor for heart dis­ease is in­ac­tiv­ity – and a re­cent Min­istry of Trans­port house­hold travel sur­vey shows Ki­wis are highly de­pen­dent on our cars, as op­posed to walk­ing or tak­ing pub­lic trans­port. The sur­vey found 81 per cent of us don’t even walk more than 100m in a day.

“Low fit­ness in mid­dle age, in peo­ple right around the world, is a strong pre­dic­tor of fu­ture risk of heart fail­ure and is as­so­ci­ated with in­creased car­diac stiff­ness, a po­ten­tial pre­cur­sor to heart fail­ure,” ex­plains Dr Erin How­den, a re­searcher at the Baker Heart & Di­a­betes In­sti­tute.


Lat­est re­search from the Baker Heart & Di­a­betes In­sti­tute has found there is a ‘sweet spot’ in mid-life when reg­u­lar ex­er­cise can re­verse some of the dam­age to the heart caused by years of sit­ting down and be­ing in­ac­tive.

The study found mix­ing moder­ate phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity with a weekly ses­sion of high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing in­creased heart fit­ness. It also re­duced dam­ag­ing car­diac stiff­ness by 25 per cent.

“Think of your heart as a big mus­cle. If it is not used ad­e­quately it be­comes smaller and stiffer and this is a pre­cur­sor to heart fail­ure be­cause the heart isn’t as flex­i­ble and doesn’t pump and work as well,” says How­den.

The ‘sweet spot’ for re­pair­ing the dam­age is be­tween 45 and 64 years old.

“Even if you have been seden­tary un­til then, it seems that in­ter­ven­ing at this time can im­prove your heart health be­cause the heart still has plas­tic­ity,” says How­den. So, what do you need to do?

The re­search found that you need to do moder­ate ac­tiv­ity and high-in­ten­sity ex­er­cise. You also need to ex­er­cise for four to five days a week, ev­ery week. Do this, and your heart will reap the ben­e­fits.

But be­fore you launch into an ex­er­cise regime, par­tic­u­larly af­ter be­ing in­ac­tive, it’s im­por­tant to check in with your doc­tor. You can also get some ad­vice from an ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist who can cre­ate an ex­er­cise pro­gramme that is safe and ef­fec­tive.

“If you haven’t ex­er­cised be­fore, high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing can be po­ten­tially danger­ous so have some ex­per­tise around you,” says Josh Tree, a spokesper­son for Ex­er­cise and Sports Sci­ence Aus­tralia.

Be­gin with moder­ate ex­er­cise three times a week for half an hour at a time, says How­den. Moder­ate ac­tiv­ity works your heart at around 40 to 70 per cent of its ca­pac­ity. You can mea­sure this with a heart mon­i­tor or Fit­bit, or, as a rule of thumb, you’re ex­er­cis­ing at moder­ate ca­pac­ity if you are slightly puffed and sweaty but can still hold a con­ver­sa­tion.


Af­ter four to six months, in­clude one one-hour ses­sion of moder­ate-in­ten­sity ex­er­cise in your weekly pro­gramme and in­tro­duce a weekly high­in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing ses­sion, too. You should ul­ti­mately aim to ex­er­cise on at least four days a week – a high in­ten­sity ses­sion on one day, an hour-long moder­ate ac­tiv­ity ses­sion on a sec­ond day, and two or three shorter half-hour moder­ate ex­er­cise ses­sions on re­main­ing days of the week. Strength train­ing to build mus­cle mass is also rec­om­mended.

“High-in­ten­sity ex­er­cise is any aer­o­bic ac­tiv­ity that ex­erts the heart level to a max­i­mum of around 95 per cent. It’s vig­or­ous ac­tiv­ity,” ex­plains Tree. So it’s ex­er­cise that makes you puffed and sweaty and you can’t hold a con­ver­sa­tion.

The Baker Heart & Di­a­betes In­sti­tute study used a four by four high-in­ten­sity pro­gramme – four min­utes of vig­or­ous ac­tiv­ity fol­lowed by three min­utes of moder­ate ac­tiv­ity to re­cover. This se­quence was re­peated four times.

“This kind of ex­er­cise im­proves car­dio­vas­cu­lar fit­ness and im­proves how well your body metabolises or breaks down sug­ars and fats. It low­ers blood pres­sure and peo­ple tend to ad­here more to this kind of ex­er­cise be­cause of the shorter time com­mit­ment,” he says.


High-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing can in­clude jog­ging for four min­utes fol­lowed by walk­ing briskly for three min­utes and re­peat­ing this se­quence. It can be rapid cy­cling for four min­utes fol­lowed by three min­utes of cy­cling at a medium pace.

“If you ex­er­cise on a foot­ball field, run across the goal line, walk the side­lines and then run across the goal line and so on,” sug­gests Tree.

“Or if you are walk­ing and there are hills or steps, walk up and down the steps or hills for four min­utes and then walk at a moder­ate pace for three min­utes and re­peat four times.”

If you find it hard to stick to an ex­er­cise rou­tine, con­sider us­ing a per­sonal trainer or ex­er­cise with a re­li­able friend who will en­sure you get off the couch, be­cause con­sis­tency mat­ters. Set your­self some fit­ness goals too, to keep mo­ti­vated. How­den says the over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive mes­sage is the re­search shows that any time be­fore your mid-60s, you can im­prove heart health and en­joy a fit­ter older age.

“Peo­ple in mid-life who’ve had a seden­tary life­style can think that it’s too late to make a dif­fer­ence,” she says.

“But it’s not too late and you could save your life.”

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