If you happen to wait until your heart gives out to think about exercising, it’s not too late. A new study shows that even elderly patients with heart failure can benefit from regular physical activity.
Doctors once thought exercise would aggravate the condition of these patients, but new research indicates that it improves health, strengthens muscles, and may even speed recovery.
Previous studies have shown that regular exercise can maintain muscle volume throughout your life. Without that, the routine building up and breaking down of muscle that occurs every day tilts in favor of the loss of muscle.
In heart failure patients, muscle wasting can worsen cardiac and respiratory health by limiting activity levels. Heart failure also leads to inflammation, which has been linked in other studies to increased loss of muscle mass.
In the current study, published in the journal Circulation, researchers put half of the heart failure patients and healthy volunteers through four weeks of exercise. This included 20 minutes of cycling, four times a day on weekdays, along with one 60-minute group exercise class a week.
Those in the exercise group showed improvements in the amount of enzymes involved in muscle maintenance, as well as lower levels of a protein that indicates muscle breakdown. Muscle strength also improved, and heart failure patients experienced greater peak oxygen intake. Researchers were also surprised at how quickly the changes occurred, even after just four weeks of exercise.
In addition to demonstrating the benefits of exercise in older heart failure patients, this study opens up the possibility of new therapies. Drugs that target the muscle enzymes identified in this study could potentially enhance muscle conditioning.