Health Watch -- Endurance Training (Part 1)

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Exercise could help keep you out of the hospital later in life.

A couch-potato lifestyle could put your heart at risk, but endurance training could help prevent heart failure, even if you don't start training until later in life. That's what doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas discovered in a recent study.

Doctors had thought that stiffening of the heart muscle was an inevitable consequence of aging. That stiffening is a precursor to heart failure, the leading cause of hospitalizations in people over the age of 65. When the heart muscle stiffens, it appears to be pumping normally, but not as effectively, so that fluid accumulates in the lungs, feet and ankles. But the UT Southwestern researchers discovered that this stiffening could be almost entirely prevented with lifelong, sustained exercise.

Doctors compared heart function among healthy but sedentary seniors, Masters athletes and sedentary young people. They found that the hearts of the sedentary seniors were 50 percent stiffer than those of the Masters athletes - people in the same age group who train and participate in events like swimming and track. Dr. Benjamin Levine, a UT Southwestern cardiologist and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, says the real surprise was that the hearts of the Masters athletes with an average age of 68 were in the same condition as those of the healthy younger people. It was the sedentary lifestyle, not age, that made the difference.

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Oct. 2004

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