You Can Reverse the Effects of Being a Couch Potato, But Here's What It'll Take

From TIME - January 8, 2018

Sitting too much can be deadly. But all hope is not lost, even for the most committed of couch potatoes: In a new study published in the journal Circulation, researchers say that you can make up for years of sedentary behavior with two years of exercise.

In the study, Dr. Benjamin Levine, professor of exercise science at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and his colleagues studied 53 healthy people ages 45 to 64. All of the people were relatively sedentary for most of their adult lives. Half were randomly assigned to an intensive exercise regimen for two years, while the other half did a program more focused on balance and flexibility that included yoga and balance training exercises three to four times a week. The intensive exercise program included a weekly hour-long exercise session (such as biking, brisk walking, tennis or dancing), a weekly high-intensity interval training workout, moderate intensity exercise two or three times a week and at least one strength training session weekly.

After a few months on the exercise programs, Levine measured structural features of the heart related to how flexible the heart muscles were. Like the stretchiness in a rubber band, this elasticity in the heart muscle is critical for healthy heart function, he says. But just as a rubber band starts to stiffen with age, the heart also begins to shrink and become less flexible over time, which can lead to heart failure and less efficient pumping of blood through the body.

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Levine found that the intensive exercise effectively reversed some of this stiffening in the heart. People in the intensive exercise group were able to improve the amount of oxygen the heart took in from the blood and consequently distributed to the rest of the body, while those in the balance and flexibility group did not show any improvement. The exercise group was also able to reduce the stiffness in their heart muscle, while there was no change in this measure among people in the other group.


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