New Australian research has found middle-aged people who are unfit can reduce or even reverse their risk of heart failure if they start exercising regularly.
- Participants who stuck to exercising regularly had reduced cardiac stiffness
- Participants did 150 minutes of exercise a week
- Terry Lonergan started doing group fitness after having a heart attack
Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute researcher Dr Erin Howden said after two years, participants who stuck to regular sessions of aerobic exercise had significant improvements in how their body utilised oxygen and reduced cardiac stiffness, both of which are markers of a healthier heart.
"We've also found that the 'sweet spot' in life to get off the couch and start regular exercise is in late-middle age when the heart still has plasticity, and this applies to people right around the world, including Australia," she said.
In the study, published in the journal Circulation, a group of men and women aged 45-64 were put on an exercise regime where frequency, duration and intensity increased over time.
Researchers from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute found exercising at a high or moderate intensity for two years could reverse the effects of being sedentary on the heart.
"By varying the duration, intensity and type of training over the course of the week, the training was not onerous, with excellent adherence [by participants] to the training sessions," she said.
The baby boomers did 150 minutes of exercise per week, plus sessions of high-intensity interval training, which has been shown to be good for burning fat.
One man's journey from heart attack to gym junkie
The turning point for Terry Lonergan to change his life happened when he was being put in an ambulance after having a heart attack.
"The terror of having a heart attack at 47 and seeing my son watching me being loaded into the ambulance was what changed everything for me," he said.
At the time, he weighed 130 kilograms and said he knew his health was deteriorating.
"I knew things needed to change," he said.
"I could barely walk one kilometre without becoming breathless. But I stuck at it."
He started doing group fitness classes, starting off once a week, then building up more and more.
Now he is a fitness instructor, inspiring others to stay healthy.
"I feel great. I feel fantastic," he said.
He is now down to around 85 kilograms and does not miss a day exercising.