(CLEVELAND CLINIC) – The benefits of exercise for the prevention of heart disease in younger and middle aged adults has been well documented. But for the elderly, many wonder if changes in the heart structure as a result of high-intensity exercise could potentially do more harm than good.
A new study shows that high level exercise actually improves heart function for seniors.
The study looked at 178 individuals over the age of 50 (with an average age of 68) participating in the World Senior Games.
The level of exercise of the athletes ranged from low, to moderate, to high intensity.
Researchers performed echocardiograms on the seniors to measure heart function.
“We were able to find that in people who performed high-intensity exercise, that it actually preserved the filling-function of the heart, more than it did in people who had moderate-intensity exercise or lower-intensity exercise,” said Chete Eze-Nliam, M.D., MPH, of Cleveland Clinic, who led the research.
Researchers also looked at individuals who had exercised for more than 20 years prior, and saw within that group, the people who performed high-intensity activity were more likely to see the most improvement in the filling-function of the heart.
The results also showed the high-intensity group was likely to have their upper heart chamber slightly bigger (or more dilated) than other groups, but Dr. Eze-Nliam said studies are needed to understand why.
For those who may have had doubts about whether exercise was beneficial for older adults, Dr. Eze-Nliam said this study shows exercise can pay off in a big way.
She said exercise helps the heart at any age – and as long it’s approved by a doctor – it’s never too late to start.
“As you start exercising, you start to build up your strength, and the body gets used to a level of exercise,” said Dr. Eze-Nliam. “After a while, you find out you’ll be able to step it up a bit, and overall, the more you can do, the better, within the confines of the limitations that you may have. I always advise to first check with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen. “
Study results were presented at ASE 2019.