Study Finds Declining Fitness a Serious Heart Risk

Keeping up that fitness routine is critical to your heart

Exercising couple with water

Many say following a fitness routine is more difficult with age. We spout off excuses. We have more responsibilities. We are so busy at the office. The kids need us. As it turns out, our bodies need us to keep up that routine. A new European study confirms what cardiologists have suspected: declining fitness over a decade doubles a person’s risks for heart attack and death.

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“Many prior studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between level of fitness and risk of heart disease and death,” says Cardiologist Michael Rocco, MD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Heart & Vascular Institute. “This study shows that declining fitness levels with aging are associated with increased risk of heart attack and death.”

About the study

The study looked at more than 2,600 Finnish men between the ages of 42 and 60 who lost more than 15 percent of their cardiorespiratory fitness over a decade. In the following decade, the study showed that these men almost doubled their risk of a heart attack and experienced more than two times the chance of dying from any cause. All of the men who participated had a baseline exam before the study began and most had no history of cardiovascular disease; some did have preexisting coronary artery disease.

Results of this Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study from the University of Eastern Finland were presented at the American Heart Association 2012 Scientific Sessions by Jari A. Laukkanen, MD, PhD. The study also took into account the typical risk factors of heart disease, including lipids, body mass index, smoking, blood pressure, diabetes and alcohol consumption and found there was still a risk that related only to a person’s level of fitness.

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“In individuals after heart attack, increasing exercise levels with exercise training improves life expectancy, too,” Dr. Rocco adds. “This study broadens this advice to general populations and emphasizes the benefits of measuring fitness level and the importance of maintaining fitness with age in our quest to reduce heart disease.”

Dr. Laukkanen has commented that based on study results, it would be a good clinical practice to measure a person’s cardiorespiratory fitness, even if a patient is healthy. Studies show that people often overestimate their fitness level even though taking a fitness test is something that can easily be done at a gym or at the doctor’s office.

“Compared to invasive cardiac testing and prescription drugs, this is simple to measure or estimate and an inexpensive strategy to substantially improve identifying high-risk individuals and reducing adverse heart disease outcomes,” Dr. Rocco says. “Both physicians and patients should take note of this.”

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More Information

Understanding Coronary Artery Disease
What is a heart attack?

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