Sedentary lifestyle effects on the heart can be reversed in middle age: study

Published: 09 January 2018


Australian-first research has shown that exercise can reverse the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart in middle aged people.

Conducted by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, the study followed middle-aged and baby boomer participants over two years as they partook in regular sessions of aerobic exercise.

The participants were required to do 150 minutes of exercise a week, as well as sessions of high-intensity training for increased fat burning.

The Institute found that these regular exercise sessions decreased cardiac stiffness in middle aged people, therefore lowering the risk of heart attacks.

Doctor Erin Howden, a researcher from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute called middle-age a “sweet spot” for being able to significantly improve heart health.

“We identified that during late-middle age, the heart still maintains some of that cardiac plasticity where it can respond to exercise,” Dr Howden said.

“With two years of exercise we could improve cardiac stiffness in sedentary individuals.”

Terry Lonergan, 53, survived a heart attack eight years ago, and knew he had to change his lifestyle for the sake of his family.

“All I could think about all day was I’m not going to let this beat me, I’m not going to let it kill me at all,” he said.

Mr Lonergan – who previously struggled to climb a flight of stairs – now regularly exercises, and is a certified fitness instructor leading a high-intensity spin class at his local gym once a week.

“I would advise anybody in my age group to just keep moving, no matter what you do, just keep moving,” he said.

However, researchers did urge individuals to note that the heart’s plasticity does not last forever, with 65-years being the age where reversal becomes harder.

While exercising after this age may not show significant improvements as found earlier in life, it is still recommended that individuals partake some form of physical activity to lower their risk of heart attack.