American scientists have found that exercising for about a year helps maintain or even improve the elasticity of the heart muscle in people with early signs of heart failure. Researchers have focused on a condition known as conserved ejection fraction heart failure, which affects about three million people in the United States. It is almost incurable and is characterized by increased rigidity of the heart muscle and high pressure within the heart during exercise. As a consequence, it causes fatigue, excess fluid in the lungs and legs, and shortness of breath.
Previous research indicates that prolonged exercise can significantly improve the elasticity of the heart in young people, but does not affect the stiffness of the heart in people 65 and older. In the new study, 31 people were found to have some heart muscle thickening and elevated blood biomarkers associated with heart failure, although they did not have symptoms such as shortness of breath.
Eleven control subjects were assigned a yoga and strength training program three times a week. The rest were assigned an individual exercise regimen: walking, cycling, or swimming. Participants then began to do intense aerobic interval training for at least 30 minutes at least twice a week, plus two to three moderate intensity workouts and 1-2 strength training sessions per week.
After one year, people who performed vigorous exercise showed physiologically and statistically significant improvements in cardiac stiffness and cardiorespiratory fitness. However, at the moment, scientists cannot accurately determine whether they will develop heart failure, for which longer studies are needed.