An exercise prescription for couch potatoes

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Decades of sedentary behavior (for example, sitting during most of your waking hours) can cause your heart muscle to shrink and stiffen. But for longtime couch potatoes, a mash-up of different types of aerobic exercise may help restore heart health, a new study suggests.

For the study, 53 healthy but sedentary middle-aged adults were divided into two groups. One (the exercise group) did high- and moderate-intensity aerobic training four or more days a week for two years. The other (the control group) engaged in regular yoga, balance training, and weight training three times a week for two years.

Each week, the exercise group did at least one long session of aerobic exercise (such as an hour of tennis or cycling) and one high-intensity session (for example, doing four-minute bursts of intense exercise alternating with three minutes of less intense exercise). They also did two or three sessions of moderate-intensity exercise (such as brisk walking) and one session of strength training per week.

People in the exercise group showed significant improvements in how their bodies used oxygen as well as less stiffness in the heart, whereas those in the control group experienced no such changes. The study was published April 10, 2018, in Circulation.