Although physical activity cannot prevent adverse structural and functional changes to the cardiovascular system caused by aging, it can slow them down. A French study presented at the EuroPRevent congress 2014 in Amsterdam has revealed that men over the age of 40 who participate in “relatively intensive” endurance exercise exhibit the same amount of cardiovascular benefits as those under the age of 30.

“Despite biological changes with age, the heart still seems — even at the age of 40 — amenable to modification by endurance training,” lead researcher, David Matelot said in a statement. “Starting at the age of 40 does not seem to impair the cardiac benefits. Endurance training is also beneficial for bone density, for muscle mass, for oxidative stress. And these benefits are known to be greater if training was started early in life."

Matelot and his colleagues recruited 40 healthy men between the ages of 55 and 70 who were divided by the intensity level in which they exercised and the age they started at. Ten of the study participants reported never exercising over two hours a week in their entire lives, while 30 said they exercised at least seven hours a week for more than five years. Out of the 30 men who reported exercising at least seven hours a week, 16 started their program before the age of 30 and 14 started their program after the age of 40.

Running and cycling were identified as the most common exercising methods. Men who started exercising before the age of 30 had been training for an average of 39 years and those who started at 40 for 18 years. Researchers assessed each participant by their maximum exercise testing, a heart rate analysis, and echocardiography at rest and during submaximal exercise. Echocardiography use sound waves to produce a picture of a patient’s heart. It is commonly used to see how a heart is beating and pumping blood.

While men who did not exercise recorded a resting heart rate of 69.7 bpm, 30-year-old men who did exercise registered 56.8 bpm compared to 40-year-old men’s 58.1 bpm. The two age groups also showed similar maximum oxygen uptake at 47.3 ml/min/kg for 30-year-olds and 44.6 ml/min/kg for 40-year-olds. "We think this result is of interest because it is related to cardiovascular health and well-being," Matelot explained.

According to the echocardiography reading, men who did not exercise displayed a smaller left ventricle, both atria, and thicker vessel walls compared to both 30- and 40-year-old men who did exercise. Men who did exercise also exhibited better diastolic function, the ability of the left ventricle to full with blood when the heart is relaxed. Overall, 30- and 40-year-old men showed no difference in cardiac echocardiography tests.

“It's never too late to change your way of life and get more physically active," Matelot added. "This will always be beneficial for the heart and well-being. And there's no need for a high level of training for many hours a week. Using the stairs rather than the elevator, or gardening regularly, can also be beneficial."

Source: Matelot D, Schnell F, Ridard C, et al. Cardiac benefits of endurance training: 40 years old is not too late to start. EuroPRevent congress in Amsterdam. 2014.