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Fitness Offsets Heart Risks from Hardening Arteries

CardioSmart News

Fitness helps counteract the effects of unhealthy arteries, based on a recent study of more than 8,000 men from Dallas, TX.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study looked at the impact of both fitness and arterial health on heart risks. The goal was to see whether being fit helps lessen the effects of calcified arteries, which are a known risk factor for heart events.

The study included 8,425 middle-aged men who underwent medical exams at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. First started in 1970, the Cooper Clinic uses preventive exams to provide patients with an individualized, in-depth picture of their health. The purpose of the exam is to identify any health concerns that patients should address to prevent future problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Exams were conducted between 1998 and 2007, and included exercise tests to assess fitness and heart imaging to measure calcification in the arteries. Additional tests were also used to measure factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, which are closely linked to cardiovascular risk.

While none of the participants had existing heart disease at the start of the study, more than half had some degree of calcification in the arteries, based on heart imaging. Forty-four percent had no calcification, which indicates very healthy arteries.

After following participants for an average of 8.4 years, 383 men experienced heart attack or stroke. Not surprisingly, the more calcification participants had, the greater their risk for heart events.

However, researchers found that fitness helped lessen the risks associated with calcified arteries.

Fitness was measured on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being the least fit and 5 being the most fit. Each increase in fitness level was associated with an 11% decrease in risk for heart events, even after adjusting for calcification.

What findings show, according to authors, is that fitness is especially important for patients at increased risk for heart disease. Even in adults with unhealthy arteries, being fit provides added protection against life-threatening heart events. Findings suggest that the more fit you are, the lower your cardiovascular risk, regardless of arterial health.

However, authors note that this study included men only, most of whom were white with high levels of education. Additional research is needed to help extend findings to a more diverse population.

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