Research shows that exercise:
- does not reverse ageing
- may make old hearts less stable
- could actually increase chances of arrhythmia (change in heartbeat)
- does bring protection against heart attacks, but this protection is gained and lost rapidly.
Contrary to popular belief, exercise may not always be good for the elderly, according to research presented at Life Sciences 2007 - the first joint meeting of The Biochemical Society, The British Pharmacological Society and The Physiological Society.
The study showed how exercise does not reverse the effects of ageing on the heart (as previously thought), and in some cases, could actually increase the risk of heart arrhythmias in the elderly. Arrhythmias, or irregular heart beats, may lead to sudden death, or the need to have a pacemaker fitted.
Dr. Matthew Lancaster, from the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds, explains: "a general misconception is that regular exercise helps you to stay young, but this is an over-simplification. Regular exercise can protect against many risk factors associated with heart disease, but exercise does not make an old heart young again."
"In fact, far from reversing the effects of ageing on the heart, it may actually increase the chances of a heart arrhythmia. The research we carried out showed that regular exercise could in some cases increase the chances of arrhythmias and potentially the need for a pacemaker. "
"The message is not to stop exercising, since regular moderate exercise reduces the chances of having a heart attack and makes the heart muscle better able to resist damage should a heart attack occur. However the elderly should employ a degree of caution and not expect regular exercise to restore youthful vigour to their heart"
Dr. Lancaster's research showed how elements important for regulating calcium in the heart muscle change with age. Calcium itself acts as a regulator for the heart's contractions and stability, so changes in the calcium levels can lead to the heart not being able to work efficiently or becoming unstable and uncoordinated in its contractile efforts. It was thought that exercise helped to rejuvenate calcium regulation in the elderly heart (so improving the heart's stability), but the research shows that this is not necessarily the case. The elderly heart is significantly different in terms of its response to exercise when compared with responses seen in the young.
Interestingly no significant differences were seen in this research when comparing elderly subjects who had performed moderate exercise three times per week for ten weeks and those who had regularly exercised throughout their lives. It is also already known that as little as one exercise session can protect the heart from damage due to a heart attack but research presented at the meeting by Professor Scott Powers, who was a co-researcher, with Dr. Lancaster, showed that this effect only persists for three days after exercise.
The summary messages from the work presented are therefore:
1. Don't expect exercise to make the old young again
2. Exercise in the elderly is not necessarily always good for the heart
3. It's never too late to start regular exercise since the heart rapidly adapts becoming indistinguishable in many measures from the heart of someone who has engaged in lifelong exercise
4. Exercise can protect against damage from a heart attack, but this protection is gained rapidly and lost rapidly.
It should also be noted that the exercise intensity used for these studies is only moderate in intensity: the equivalent to 30 minutes light jogging/easy running. This is sufficient to protect against a heart attack but not sufficient to leave you gasping for breath and feeling like you're having one.
About Life Sciences 2007
Life Sciences 2007 is the first joint meeting of the Biochemical Society, the British Pharmacological Society and The Physiological Society and is sponsored by Pfizer and Merck. A full programme of events and further information is available at http://www.lifesciences2007.org.
The Physiological Society has approximately 2,500 members drawn from over 50 countries, the majority of whom are engaged in research, in universities or industry, into how the body works. The Biochemical Society has a membership of c. 6,000 - of which one-third are international - and is open to any individual with an interest in biochemistry. The British Pharmacological Society is the professional association for pharmacologists in the UK and has around 2,500 members, who work in academia, industry and the health services. All three are registered charities and were funded to advance the understanding of their disciplines.
Exercise Does Not Make Heart Grow Younger
Research shows that exercise: