Exercising at least 4 times a week is necessary for maintaining a young heart, a new study concludes.

That exercising helps keep us healthy should be a secret to no one. But how much you should exercise — that’s a different problem. In a new study, authors carried out an examination of 102 people over 60 years old, with a consistently-logged, lifelong exercise history. Researchers also gathered detailed measures of arterial stiffness from all participants — a key index of arterial health. Based on the results, participants were split into the following groups:

  • Sedentary: less than 2 exercise sessions/week;
  • Casual Exercisers: 2-3 exercise sessions per week;
  • Committed Exercisers: 4-5 exercise sessions/week; and
  • Masters Athletes: 6-7 exercise sessions per week.

They found that exercising 2-3 times a week helps keep the middle-sized arteries young. Notably, these are the arteries which supply oxygenated blood to the head and neck. However, in addition to this, people who exercised 4 times per week or more also kept their main arteries healthy — the arteries which provide blood to the chest and abdomen.

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So the conclusion is that even a couple of weekly workouts is good, but if you really want to keep your heart going, you should probably push it to about 4 or 5 a week.

The good thing about this study is that it could be an important step towards developing exercise strategies to slow down such aging.

“This work is really exciting because it enables us to develop exercise programmes to keep the heart youthful and even turn back time on older hearts and blood vessels,”  says Benjamin Levine, one of the authors of the study.

“Previous work by our group has shown that waiting until 70 is too late to reverse a heart’s ageing, as it is difficult to change cardiovascular structure even with a year of training. Our current work is focussing on two years of training in middle aged men and women, with and without risk factors for heart diseases, to see if we can reverse the ageing of a heart and blood vessels by using the right amount of exercise at the right time”.

There are still significant drawbacks of this study. For starters, 102 people is not the largest sample size you can ask for. Secondly, even though the data was very thorough, it didn’t include any information about the intensity and duration of the workout, which could have significant vascular consequences.

However, while researchers still aren’t sure exactly how much exercise is enough, even a bit is better than nothing. So if you want to maintain a healthy and young body, you’d best start working.

Journal Reference: Shibata, S et. al. The Effect of Lifelong Exercise Frequency on Arterial Stiffness. JPhysiol. 21 May 2018. doi: 10.1113/JP275301