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Feb 27, 2012

Fitness, Fatness and Cardiovascular Risk

Fitness is key to cardiovascular risk reduction.

Experts recommend that individuals exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight to minimize cardiovascular risk and improve overall health. And while both lifestyle changes are important to heart health, many wonder if one is more important than the other. Could being fit counteract the harmful effects of being overweight? Or could low body fat compensate for a lack of fitness?

Although it has been long debated, a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology helps get us to the bottom of this question. By following nearly 3,150 healthy adults over 6 years, researchers tracked fitness and fatness of participants over time, along with cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, metabolic syndrome and high cholesterol.

Through this approach, researchers were able to categorize individuals as having lost, maintained or gained fitness and/or fatness over the time period. After analysis, they found that maintaining or improving fitness was associated with lower risk for development of cardiovascular risk factors, while increasing fatness was associated with increased cardiovascular risk. Experts also determined that while risks associated with fat gain were attenuated by maintained or improved fitness, being fit did not completely counteract the negative effects of fatness. Conversely, risk associated with losing fitness was lessened in combination with fat loss, but not completely negated.

These findings highlight the importance of combined fitness and healthy weight maintenance to achieve optimal cardiovascular risk reduction. By maintaining a healthy weight and improving fitness, we have the best shot at reducing our risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. However, it’s not all or nothing. If an individual is overweight but improves fitness, that can help reduce her cardiovascular risk. Likewise, those that are less fit but maintain a healthy weight are also helping improve their heart health. But it is in combination that increasing fitness and reducing fatness can have the biggest impact in cardiovascular risk reduction among adults.

Read this Article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How did researchers measure fitness and fatness in this study?

  • In this study, fitness was measured using a treadmill test and fatness was measured using body mass index and percent body fat.
  • How can I achieve optimal fitness?

  • Experts have found that to achieve important health benefits, adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (i.e., brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week, incorporating muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week. And although it may sound like a lot, that’s only 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5 days a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous physical activity 3 times a week. Each adult should check with his/her care team for an activity plan that is best for him/her.


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