Endurance training isn’t just for the under 40 crowd. In fact, a European study has found that for men, endurance exercise is beneficial to the heart regardless of when they first began training.
“The heart is a muscle,” says David Matelot, who presented the study at the EuroPRevent congress 2014. "If you train it, it becomes bigger and stronger, so the pump can be more efficient.” It’s likely that the right ventricles were bigger as well, but they are harder to measure.
Though starting training after 40 has positive effects, Matelot still recommends that people start much earlier—in childhood, if possible. “There are others benefits of endurance training than cardiac parameters,” he says. “Indeed, endurance training is also beneficial for bone density, for muscle mass, for oxidative stress… And these benefits of endurance training are known to be better if training have been started early in life.”
It’s also key to keep training once you’ve started. The benefits from exercise can dwindle quickly in the inactive. But, he says, it’s “never too late to change your way of life and to get more physically active.”
The Study Methods
Researchers studied 40 men between the ages of 55 and 70 who had no cardiovascular risk factors, assessing when they first began training and the level of exercise—specifically cycling and running—they performed.
Of the 40, ten had never exercised more than two hours a week; the remaining 30 had exercised for at least seven hours, beginning either before age 30, or after age 40. The group that started younger had been training for an average of 39 years; the older group 18.
Participants went through maximal exercise testing, echocardiography at rest and during sub-maximal exercise, and heart rate analysis.
Researchers found that resting heart rate was similar for the exercisers, but much more rapid in the non-exercisers. The more active group also had bigger left ventricles and atria, and the same results in their cardiac echocardiography tests.