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The relationship between the heart and exercise.

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A recent study published in Nature Communications identifies a link between exercise and the heart’s ability to regenerate new muscle cells under normal conditions and after a heart attack.

The research, which was conducted on groups of mice, could have dramatic implications for “public health, physical education, and the rehabilitation of cardiac patients.”



The first study authors are Ana Vujic, Ph.D., who works in the Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology in Cambridge, MA, and Dr. Carolin Lerchenmüller, of Harvard Medical School (HMS), also in Cambridge, and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

According to previous research, our hearts have very little capacity to regenerate themselves.

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Vujic explains, “We wanted to know whether there was a natural way to enhance the regenerative capacity of heart muscle cells. So, we decided to test the one intervention we already know to be safe and inexpensive: exercise.”

They found that heart muscle cells in a young adult heart only renew 1 percent every year and this would continue to decrease with age. Therefore, any interventions that increase new heart cell formation could have the potential to prevent heart failure in the future.

The effects of exercise on heart cells

In the new study, researchers used two groups of healthy mice to test the effects of exercise on the heart. One group of mice had voluntary access to a treadmill, and the other group did not and remained sedentary.

The mice with the treadmill ran around 5 kilometers each day. The scientists were able to measure heart regeneration in the mice by tracking the newly made DNA as the cells divided. By doing this, they could see where new cells were being produced in the heart muscles.

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