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Research demonstrates that high intensity exercise can reduce scar tissue in the heart

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New research from Brunel University, published in this month’s BMJ Case Reports, demonstrates for the first time that high intensity interval exercise can lead to cardiac repair.

Dr Richard Godfrey, a Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching and Human Performance at Brunel University, suffered a heart attack in 2007 in the absence of any heart disease, resulting in 16% myocardial scar tissue. The cause was later found to be coagulopathy - a blood clotting disorder.

Dr Godfrey, who was formerly Chief Physiologist at the British Olympic Medical Centre, undertook 60 weeks of high intensity aerobic interval exercise, three times per week. Sessions involved six to ten exercise intervals alternating one minute of hard work with one minute of easy activity, designed to take his heart rate just above 90% of maximum.

Cardiac MRI scans before, during and after the activity showed a 50% decrease in the amount of scar tissue in the heart - the first time that exercise has been shown to cause cardiac repair.

Dr Godfrey said: "Accumulating evidence suggests that aerobic high-intensity interval training (AHIT) is efficacious in improving cardiac function in health and disease. However, its impact on myocardial infarction (MI) scar has never been assessed.

“These findings question what many doctors believe – namely that once scar tissue is present in the heart it cannot be reversed – and suggest that AHIT may be increasingly important in the future prevention and reversing of disease and the amelioriation of symptoms.”