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Could exercise heal a broken heart?

The Daily Telegraph reports that “vigorous daily exercise could repair damage caused by a heart attack”.

It has long been known that the heart muscle can increase in size in response to regular exercise increasing its workload. This has been thought to just be due to the existing heart muscle cells getting bigger.

However, this new study has found that in healthy adult rats, this increase in size is also, in part, due to the generation of new heart muscle cells from dormant stem cells in the heart tissue.

The researchers also identified some of the proteins that appear to be prompting this cell generation.

As this was a study in rats with healthy hearts it is not yet clear whether exercise has the same generative effect in in humans, or in damaged heart tissue.

If these findings are to be harnessed to develop new treatments for humans, this is most likely to involve using the proteins that the researchers have identified to prompt dormant stem cells into action. Tests of this approach have been started in animals, and these will need to be successful before any tests could begin in humans.

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