Gauging Heart Fitness

Thursday, May 19, 2011 - 9:36am

Fitness levels at mid-life can predict the risk of heart disease decades later.

Don't be surprised if the next time you see your doctor, you're asked, "How fast can you run a mile?".

New research shows a dramatic connection between fitness at 40 and heart disease risk decades later.

"We were quite surprised to find that exercise is quite dramatic at influencing a patient's risk for heart disease," says Dr. Jarrett Berry, an assistant professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

The exercise that happens in mid-life, our 30s and 40s, can predict the risk of heart disease decades later.

"The exercise we do at 40 has implications of heart disease risk when we're 80, and I think that's an important public health message," Dr. Berry says.

The studies revealed another surprise, one that may have doctors asking patients, "How fast can you run a mile?".

"So in these studies, women who could run a mile in 12 minutes or less, or a man who could run a mile in ten minutes or less, those individuals were at the lowest risk for heart disease," Berry says.

Scientists have tried for a long time to improve their ability to determine who is at a higher risk for heart disease.

They've studied the blood, looked at images of the heart, but fitness has not been looked at until now.

"You can order a CAT scan. You can order a blood test, and what we observed here is that knowledge of someone's exercise provides as much information as most additional tests a physician can order," Berry adds.

"It's important for people in general to realize this can be an inexpensive way and easy way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease," says epidemiologist Dr. Ben Willis.

For both studies, researchers collected information from thousands of people who had a clinical exam and treadmill test between 1970 and 2006.

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