The very reason for National Physical Fitness Month is that it’s long been established that exercise continues to yield substantial benefits, and that these rewards can be enjoyed at any age. For young people, it promotes proper development and forms lifelong habits for health. In older populations, exercise can counteract muscle breakdown, increase strength, endurance and reduce inflammation.
According to recent research published by the American Heart Association, the benefits for heart failure patients are similar to those for anyone who exercises: there’s less muscle-wasting (sometimes called sarcopenia) and their bodies become conditioned to handle more exercise. These benefits extend to the cardiac muscle as well.
Between 2005 and 2008, researchers recruited 60 heart-failure patients and 60 healthy volunteers. Half of each group was 55 years and younger and the other half 65 years and older—age difference between the two groups averaged 20 years. Half the participants for each age group were randomly assigned to one month of minimal physical activity, or one month of supervised aerobic training.
In both age groups, the exercising members performed four training sessions of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, five days per week, plus one 60-minute group exercise session. The strength of participants’ leg muscles was measured before and after the exercise, along with Western blot and biopsy testing to measure proteins linked to muscle breakdown and inflammation, specifically MuRF1 and TNF-alpha.
In both age groups, exercise reduced both muscle wasting and reduced muscle inflammation—in addition, both younger and older heart failure patients increased muscle strength after the four-week exercise regimen. Muscle size was unaffected.
“Exercise switches off the muscle-wasting pathways and switches on pathways involved in muscle growth, counteracting muscle loss and exercise intolerance in heart failure patients,” said Stephan Gielen, M.D., lead co-author and Deputy Director of Cardiology at the University Hospital, Martin-Luther-University of Halle, Germany.
These findings offer a possible treatment to the muscle breakdown and wasting associated with heart failure. They also suggest that exercise is beneficial not only for heart failure patients, but healthy individuals also.
During National Physical Fitness Month, this is both a friendly reminder and a call to action—be sure to take some time this month to engage in a little exertion. A game of tennis, an afternoon hike or a session at the gym can fit into any routine, and any of them represent a step towards a foundation of fitness.