Middle age isn’t too late to reap the rewards of exercise, according to a study in Circulation—a journal of the American Heart Association—that found heart and fitness benefits in sedentary, middle-aged adults who participated in a two-year exercise program. The study, detailed in a press release from UT Southwestern Medical Center, enrolled 61 healthy, sedentary adults, aged 48 to 58, and assigned them to either an exercise program, consisting of 30- to 60-minute supervised sessions of moderate-to-intense aerobic and strength training exercises four to five times a week, or a control program, consisting of yoga and balance training, for two years. Researchers assessed the participants’ heart health and fitness by measuring the elasticity of the left ventricle—the largest and most muscular chamber of the heart— and maximal oxygen uptake. Stiffening of heart muscle can be caused by sedentary aging and is a risk factor for heart failure. Fifty-three participants (87%) completed the study, and researchers used their data to determine that:
Maximal oxygen uptake increased by 18% and left ventricular stiffness decreased by 25% in the exercise group.
Maximal oxygen uptake decreased slightly and left ventricular stiffness did not change in the control group.
This research suggests you may be able to reverse the effects of a sedentary lifestyle even in middle age. But researchers warn it’s crucial to get the four to five weekly sessions to see these kinds of benefits—fewer sessions didn’t yield the same results in previous research. If that seems like too much sweating, don't fear—you don’t have to get there all at once. This study’s participants started with three moderate-intensity sessions a week, adding more sessions and increasing intensity as they were able. If that still seems daunting, remember that when it comes to exercise, a little is better than none—even a 20-minute walk a few times a week could do you good.