You don’t have to start exercising young to give yourself a longer life. A soon-to-be-published study led by David Matelot, a PhD candidate in cardiological health at ENS Rennes, examined the heart health of 40 healthy men between the ages of 55 and 70 who had no particular risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Matelot and his colleagues (who presented their work at the 2014 EuroPRevent congress) divided the men up based on whether and when they had taken over two hours a week of “endurance training,” or intense exercise.
Men who had started running or cycling regimens of at least five hours per week before the age of 30 (at age 22, on average) didn’t have significantly healthier hearts than those who had started the same exercise program at the age of 40 (at age 48, on average). Resting heart rate and maximal oxygen intake were virtually the same. And both groups had healthier hearts than the rest of the participants, none of whom had exercised regularly for more than two hours a week.
Echocardiography also showed the non-exercisers to have thicker blood vessel walls than those who had trained. Thicker arteries are often caused by high blood pressure—and the thicker an artery grows, the higher blood pressure can get. “Despite biological changes with age,” Matelot said in a press release, “The heart still seems—even at the age of 40—amenable to modification by endurance training. Starting at the age of 40 does not seem to impair the cardiac benefits.”
Matelot also pointed out that physical activity needn’t be all or nothing: If five hours of moderate running or cycling seems out of the question, you can start by taking a short stroll every morning.
However, younger men shouldn’t take the new research as an excuse to delay getting in shape. “Endurance training is also beneficial for bone density, for muscle mass, for oxidative stress,” Matelot said. “And these benefits are known to be greater if training was started earlier in life.”