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Exercise Reduces Muscle Breakdown Caused by Heart Failure and Age

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reduce muscle breakdown from heart failure with exercise iStockphoto/Thinkstock

It’s long been accepted that a lack of exercise is one of the risk factors for both heart disease and stroke.

Engaging in physical activity on a regular basis lowers total cholesterol levels, raises levels of the good or HDL cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, reduces risk of diabetes, and improves heart function and resting heart rate.

It also has the added benefits of increasing stamina, improving balance and strength, and reducing depression.

As we age, the heart muscle may become damaged as a results of increased inflammation and muscle deterioration or by conditions such as heart failure.

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is no longer able to function properly and supply the body with enough blood.

According to new research, the trend of heart muscle deterioration caused by the natural aging process or heart failure can be slowed by exercise.

As a part of the study, researchers examined the effect of supervised aerobic activity on 120 study participants. Half of the participants were diagnosed with heart-failure while the remaining participants were heart-healthy.

In addition, half of the participants were under the age of 55 years and the other half over the age of 65 years. In each of the two age groups, one-half of the study participants -- 30 in each group -- participated in four weeks of supervised aerobic activity.

The exercise group participated in 20 minutes of aerobic activity for five days out of the week. In addition, the exercise group also participated in an hour-long group exercise session focused on increasing oxygen uptake and improving muscle force and endurance.

The remaining participants were exercise-free for the course of the study.

Before the study began, researchers obtained muscle biopsies on all participants to server as a baseline. A second muscle biopsy was performed on all participants at the end of the study.

The biopsies revealed that heart failure patients had high levels of a muscle protein -- MuRF1 -- than their heart-healthy counterparts. The presence of MuRF1 indicates that the heart muscle is breaking down.

Researchers also measured participant’s leg muscle strength.

After comparing end-of-study results against measurements taken at the beginning of the study, researchers found the following:

• OXYGEN UPTAKE: improved by 25 percent in heart-failure patients under age 55 and 27 percent in those over 65 years

• MUSCLE BREAKDOWN -- presence of MuRF1: exercise lowered levels of MuRF1 and reduced levels of heart muscle inflammation

• LEG MUSCLE STRENGTH: while muscle size did not change, leg muscle strength improved in all heart failure patients

The findings were consistent across all age groups suggesting that even elderly patients will see heart-health benefit from adding regular daily exercise.


What is Heart Failure? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 09 Jan 2012. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf

Physical Activity: Getting Active, Staying Active. American Stroke Association. 2012. http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/LifeAfterStroke/HealthyLivingAfterStroke/PhysicalActivity/Physical-Activity_UCM_310896_Article.jsp

American Heart Association (2012, May 7). Exercise slows muscle wasting from age and heart failure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 8, 2012 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120507165341.htm

Reviewed May 10, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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