According to a new study that was recently published in European Heart Journal, damage to the heart from a heart disease or failure can be partially repaired through regular intense exercises. Unlike the long-held notion that the heart is not capable of regeneration, the researchers found that dormant cardiac stem cells can be sprung to life with regular workouts, leading to the development of a new heart muscle.
The study, carried out by a team of researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, was funded by the British Heart Foundation. It is the first of its kind to suggest that a basic exercise regime can have the same effect on the heart as injecting growth chemicals to stimulate stem cells to produce new tissue.
The study was conducted on a group of healthy male rats for up to four weeks. They were exercised on an intensity-controlled treadmill for 30 minutes, four times a week. The exercise resulted in over 60 per cent of heart stem cells becoming active. In adults these stem cells are usually dormant. Within two weeks of exercise, there was a 7 per cent increase in the number of ‘beating’ cells in the heart tissue.
According to the researchers, this study adds to the growing evidence that adult hearts may be able to make new muscle from dormant stem cells. They write, ‘Traditionally, the adult mammalian heart has been viewed as a post-mitotic organ with no, or very low, regenerative capacity… These findings highlight the endogenous regenerative capacity of the adult heart.’
Recommending either jogging or cycling daily for at least 30 minutes, Dr Georgina Ellison, the lead author of the study, told The Telegraph that while those who suffer from severe heart damage may be incapable of intensive workouts, there are many who can exercise for at least 30 minutes without jeopardising their health. “In a normal cardiac rehabilitation programme patients do undertake exercise, but what we are saying is maybe to be more effective it needs to be carried out at a higher intensity, in order to activate the resident stem cells,” she said.
The scientists, however, recommend more research to determine whether this can be translated into treatment for human patients.