Did you see this incredible study(1) that came out recently? Sadly, you probably didn’t because like all other studies showing the benefits of lifestyle changes (in this case, exercise), they just aren’t front-page news.
But as one astute commentator of this study said, if it were a drug that had produced these effects, it would have been splattered across every media outlet. But that my friends, is how it works – the basics and what we know to be healthy, yet require work – don’t get the same attention that a pill which could potentially create a billion-dollar market does!
Here’s what the study entailed: They took 12 life-long sedentary people and put them on an endurance training program for one year. Each subject had an endurance event goal at the end of the year.
The study looked at changes to the subjects’ hearts. What they found was astounding; these sedentary people, by the end of the 12-month study period, had hearts that were similar in size to an elite athlete.
But what does that mean? It means that given the right environment (exercise), one’s heart (and no doubt the rest of their body) responded very favorably to the effects of exercise – changes that modeled what a highly trained athlete’s heart looks like.
Remember, the heart is a muscle. It never stops working. It rests in the fraction of a second in between heartbeats. It’s clearly built for endurance. When we exercise, we train the heart directly. It grows in size, like any other muscle, when it’s put to task.
And while these study subjects’ hearts grew, they didn’t have the same compliance and flexibility that a life-long athlete’s heart typically shows. That’s because with age, all things stiffen and become less ‘elastic’ – think about how your legs and back feel when you get out of bed (if you’re over 40 or so…). People who are lifelong exercisers have hearts that adapt easier to stresses because of the flexibility the muscle has ‘learned’ over time.
But this isn’t to say that this study's findings weren’t remarkable. It just goes to show, again, that exercise really is our best medicine!
And of course, this study only looked at heart muscle changes. It would have been great to hear about changes in blood sugar, lipids, mood, focus, sleep, weight, flexibility and all the other age-reversing benefits of exercise.
By the way, all 12 subjects reached their goal – 10 ran a marathon, 1 completed an Olympic-distance triathlon, and 1 completed a 100-mile bike event.
1. Arbab-Zadeh A, Perhonen M, Howden E, et al. Cardiac remodeling in response to 1 year of intensive endurance training. Circulation 2014.
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