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Jul 10, 2014

Fitness Helps Predict Risk for Heart Disease

Fitness level is an important factor to consider when estimating a person’s 30-year risk of death from heart disease, according to a recent study.

Experts may want to take into account fitness when estimating a patient’s risk of heart disease, according to research published in the medical journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

It’s well known that regular physical activity helps reduce risk of heart disease and improve overall health. Still, fitness is not included in current calculations of cardiovascular risk, which are used to identify patients at low, intermediate and high risk of heart disease.

To determine whether fitness is an important factor for long-term cardiovascular risk, researchers created their own model for estimating 30-year risk of cardiovascular related death. Not only did this model take into account factors like age, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, it included fitness level, which was measured using a treadmill exercise test. Treadmill tests help determine whether a person engages in physical activity on a regular basis by testing their stamina and fitness level.

Researchers applied this model to more than 16,500 adults free from heart disease to compare their 30-year risk of death from heart disease. Not surprisingly, they found that low fitness levels were associated with a greater long-term risk of death compared to those with higher fitness levels.

Based on these findings, researchers believe that fitness may be an important factor to consider when estimating long-term risk for heart disease. Since the current model doesn’t take into account fitness, it’s possible that it may underestimate some patients’ risk—especially those who engage in little physical activity. By taking into account fitness, authors believe that doctors can better identify patients at high risk for heart disease and help prevent or delay heart disease in high-risk individuals.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a cardiovascular risk estimate?
  • To identify patients at increased risk for heart disease, doctors use tools to estimate a person’s short and long-term risk of heart disease. These tools take into account factors closely related to cardiovascular risk, such as age, sex, cholesterol and smoking status, to estimate risk of developing heart disease in a given time period. Most estimates calculate short-term risk (risk of developing heart disease in the next 10 years) or long-term risk (risk of developing heart disease in an entire lifetime).
  • Why is the prediction of cardiovascular risk important?

  • Cardiovascular risk prediction is important because it helps determine whether lifestyle modification and/or medical treatment is needed to help reduce risk for heart disease in a patient. If a person is at intermediate or high risk for heart disease, it’s important to take steps to reduce cardiovascular risk and improve heart health.

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