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Jan 16, 2014

Fit Teens Have Lower Heart Attack Risk Later in Life

Study finds that fitness early in life helps reduce heart attack risk during adulthood.

Kids today who skimp on physical activity may miss out on significant health benefits later in life, according to a recent study published in the European Heart Journal.

This study included nearly 750,000 Swedish men who joined the military at the age of 18 between 1969 and 1984. Upon enrollment, subjects participated in a mandatory two-day physical exam, which included in-depth tests to measure their fitness levels. Investigators then followed participants for about 34 years, checking hospital registries to determine which men suffered a heart attack as they got older. Given the association between fitness and heart health, researchers were curious whether being fit at a young age (18 years old) had any impact on heart attack risk down the road.

After analysis, researchers found that the more fit men were at the start of the study, the lower their risk of heart attack as an adult. In fact, for every 15% increase in one’s fitness level, heart attack risk was reduced by 18%. Another key finding was that fit, obese subjects had a greater heart attack risk than underweight men who were less fit.

Why are these results important? First, children today are less active than at any other point in history and this study highlights the importance of fitness at a young age. Regardless of lifestyle choices later in life, simply being active and fit during childhood and teenage years may help ward off heart disease as an adult.

Second, these findings challenge the idea that when it comes to heart health, fitness is more important than weight alone. Past studies have suggested that obese, fit individuals may have similar or even lower cardiovascular risk than those who are a healthy weight but unfit. However, this study challenges that concept, suggesting that fitness reduces cardiovascular risk but not as much as being a healthy weight.

Further research is needed to better understand the relationship between fitness and cardiovascular risk, but one thing is sure: Fitness is a good thing when it comes to heart health. Any physical activity is always better than no activity at all, and the more active you are, the more fit you will be. Fitness is important at all ages and may be especially important during childhood, when lifestyle choices early in life likely impact health down the road.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Who is at risk for heart attack?
  • The most common risk factors for heart attack include increased age, tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, stress, illegal drug use, lack of physical activity and family history of heart attack.
  • How does physical activity improve heart health?

  • Physical activity promotes many health benefits, such as weight control, blood pressure reduction and stress reduction. Together, these health benefits translate to improved cardiovascular health.

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