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Exercise Rx can help repair couch potatoes’ hearts


Confirmed middle-aged couch potatoes can reverse damage to their heart as long as they change their sedentary ways.

So say researchers behind a long-term study published Monday in Circulation, the American Heart Association Journal.

The regimen must begin by age 65, when the heart is elastic enough to reap benefits. Exercise needs to be performed four to five times a week, generally in 30-minute sessions, with time to warm up and cool down. Three times a week wasn’t enough.

“Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past five years, this ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life,” said senior author Benjamin Levine, director of the Institute and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern.

The findings are based on following 50 men and women ages 45 to 64. Subjects were divided into two groups. One participated in supervised cardiovascular workouts. A control group did yoga and balance training.

Weight training at least one day a week should be part of the couch-potato repair reginmen.

(Marc Romanelli/Getty Images/Blend Images)

At the end of two years, the control group’s cardiovascular health was unchanged. The other subjects’ boosted maximum oxygen intake during exercise by 18% and elasticity of the left ventricle by 25%. Levine compared the change in the heart to a stretchy, new rubber band versus one that has gotten stiff sitting in a drawer for ten years.

Varying workouts in terms of duration, intensity and activity is important, researchers say. Levine’s Rx: one high-intensity 30-minute workout; one moderate long workout a week, for at least hour; one or two 30-minute moderate exercise sessions; plus one or two strength-training workouts.

“I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene,” said Levine, “just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”