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You may fear that you’ve passed the point of recovery when you reach middle age, especially when it comes to heart health. If your early adulthood years involved a poor diet and lack of exercise, you can justifiably expect it to have had a negative effect on your cardiac health. However, you needn’t despair, according to new research from the US. Even if you led a sedentary existence in early life, you can compensate for your listless, misspent youth by exercising later. As with most physical turnarounds, the bad news for couch potatoes is that the study concluded that you will need to exercise four or five times each week for two years.

Researchers assessed the hearts of 53 adults between the ages of 45 and 64. The participants were all healthy but didn’t exercise regularly. The adults were then split into two groups. The first group did aerobic exercise for two years, gradually increasing the intensity of their workouts. The second group focused on weights, yoga and balance, three times a week, for two years.

Those who had been exercising aerobically saw marked improvements in the health of their hearts. The group showed an 18 per cent improvement in their maximum oxygen intake as well as a 25 per cent increase in the plasticity in the left ventricular muscle of the heart.

For the second group, the same improvements did not occur.

“We found what we believe to be the optimal dose of the right kind of exercise, which is four to five times a week, and the sweet spot in time — when the heart risk from a lifetime of sedentary behaviour can be improved — is late middle age,” said Dr Benjamin Levine, founder and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, and lead author of the study.

The study was published in the journal, Circulation.