Just ten weeks of exercise can protect heart

— by Emily Barker, Frontiersin.org

Just ten-weeks of exercise is nearly 100% effective at protecting the heart from potentially lethal changes in heart rhythms.

Professor George Billman, Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Physiology, works on preventing ventricular fibrillation, a very specific and potentially lethal change in cardiac rhythm, since 1980.

In his current work, he has found that exercise could be the best non-pharmacological way to protect our hearts after sudden cardiac arrest.

During ventricular fibrillation the heart does not beat in a coordinated fashion, instead it is a disorganized electrical event.

“This is what you will see when they call a code blue and bring in a defibrillator to try to restore a cardiac rhythm,” he explained.

The heart receives two sets of nerves, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. A change in cardiac rhythms can be found when there is high sympathetic activity and low parasympathetic activity.

To find the best way to protect the heart, Prof. Billman and his research team induced animals with a sudden cardiac arrest. They then put some of the animals on a ten week training program.

About 95% of those who exercised were protected at the end of the program, whereas the sedentary animals got worse over time.

“How can the everyday person do to prevent the risk of dying suddenly? I would say engage in exercise;” he said.

People don’t need to be running marathons or spending hours in the gym to protect their heart, he added. Even modest exercise can have a benefit – just walking two miles a day five times a week would be enough to provide protection.

Prof. Billman explained the next challenge would be to identify “what’s going on at a more cellular or biochemical level so that we can identify the biochemical pathways and potentially design a drug that might be exercise in a pill.”

Though he warned that the pill would not just be a quick fix for people who are too lazy to get in their daily exercise.

“Well the risk of exercise in a pill is someone would be lazy and just say I can take a pill for this rather than engaging in exercise, but I would think exercise in a pill would be for people who physically or emotionally can’t exercise. You’re never going to be able to duplicate all the metabolic and biochemical benefits of exercise;” he explained.

Further author biography and related research articles available via Loop.

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