To keep your heart working well, stay active as you age

Research we're watching

stay active as you age
Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock

Staying physically active as you move from middle age into your 70s can keep your heart in good shape, new research suggests.

With age, the heart's main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, tends to thicken. Both ventricles may also stiffen and not fill with blood properly—a condition known as diastolic dysfunction. But getting ideal amounts of physical activity (at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) may help prevent this problem, according to a study in the August 2016 European Heart Journal.

The study included 4,342 adults who were ages 45 to 64 when the study began in the late 1980s. Researchers periodically tracked their activity levels via questionnaires over a 24-year period and measured their heart function with specialized heart ultrasounds near the end of the study. About half of the participants (average age now 76) met the criteria for ideal amounts of leisure-time physical activity, such as walking or doing gardening or yard work, but nearly 30% reported doing no physical activity at all. However, boosting activity levels even later in life seemed to offset age-related changes in heart function, the researchers found.