Research Articles

Young at Heart

I recently had the honor of corresponding with Benjamin D. Levine, M.D. Dr Levine has the following titles to add to that of M.D. which includes: Director, Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, S. Finley Ewing Jr. Chair for Wellness at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas, Harry S. Moss Heart Chair for Cardiovascular Research, Professor of Medicne and Cardiology, Distinguished Professorship in Exercise Science, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

I contacted Dr. Levine after reading an article that pointed to his research relative to the benefits of exercise to that of lifelong heart health. Dr. Levine and his colleagues are engaging in many studies, which showcase the positive effects that exercise has to offer. One such study which appeared in Circulation on September 28, 2004, Effect of Aging and Physical Activity on Left Ventricular Compliance , Arbab-Zadeh et al

The key research components taken directly from the article is as follows:

Hypothesis: Heart failure is a leading cause of hospitalization for patients over the age of 65. Left ventricular compliance or diastolic dysfunction appears to play a significant role.. The left ventricle appears to become less flexible with age and less capable of filling velocities that once existed. Decreased vascular compliance is associated with aging and hypertension and recently has been related to heart failure with preserved ejection fraction.

Subjects: Twelve healthy sedentary seniors (6 men, 6 women) average age 69.8 + or -3 years

Twelve Masters athletes (6 men 6 women) average age 67.8 +or -3 years

Fourteen young sedentary adults (7 men 7 women) average age 28.9 +or -5 years

* Masters athletes participated in endurance competition 23 years + or – 8 years, the weekly running mileage of 32 + or – 10 miles, or equivalent swimming or cycling. “Masters” athlete refers to anyone participating in US Masters Associations (Swimming, Track and Field, etc.) sanctioned event.

*Sedentary seniors were excluded if they engaged in endurance exercise for more than 30 minutes 3 times per week

Conclusion:Healthy but sedentary seniors exhibited substantially great LV stiffness compared with healthy, sedentary young control subjects, providing evidence that cardiac compliance decreases with aging . Ventricles of Masters endurance athletes were much more compliant than those of the age-matched sedentary subjects and virtually identical to those of the young controlled subjects. Thus, prolonged and sustained endurance training seems to be an effective means of preserving cardiac compliance with aging. The Masters athletes had considerably greater LV mass, as measured by MRI, than their sedentary counterparts, yet still had reduced LV stiffness and improved compliance.

In My Words-Most Ageless Athletes whom I have interviewed continue to strive for physical excellence, because it makes them feel healthy and has an overall positive impact upon their mental attitude. They realize strength, conditioning and flexibility can continue to be enhanced with exercise. Now research affirms their actions and beliefs. Just as any body part, the heart can become stiff and incapable of efficient performance without exercise, specifically aerobic conditioning. In order to maintain a healthy left ventricle, that will fill to youthful levels and remain flexible, exercise is a must. The time to begin is not at age 65, though it is never too late. In order to gain the cardiac benefits study participants ran, swam or cycled for an average of 23 years plus or minus 8 years. They performed these endurance exercises by running 32 miles weekly plus or minus 10 miles, or an equivalent amount of swimming or cycling. Therefore, find an aerobic exercise you enjoy and continue to participate in a weekly regimen that will keep your heart powerful and flexible. Your left ventricle will thank you.

In Addition-Dr. Levine indicates that recent work suggests being a "committed" exerciser -- training at least 4-5 times/week during adult life is nearly as good as being a competitive athlete. Being a "casual" exerciser -- training 2-3 days per week is much less effective.

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