Keep fit to cut your risk of heart attack, says study

Even if you’re otherwise healthy, keeping fit is still important for reducing the risk of a heart attack. (AFP Relaxnews pic)

New European research has found that a poor level of fitness could increase the risk of a heart attack even if individuals are in otherwise good health.

Carried out by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Cardiac Exercise Research Group (CERG), the new study looked at 4,527 men and women, none of whom had cardiovascular disease, cancer or high blood pressure, who were considered to be at low risk of cardiovascular disease for the next ten years.

The researchers measured the participants’ cardiorespiratory fitness using maximum oxygen uptake, considered to be the gold standard test.

The findings, published in the European Heart Journal, showed that the risk of experiencing a heart attack declined steadily as the participant’s fitness increased.

The association between fitness and cardiovascular risk also held true even taking into account the other factors that differed between the most and least fit participants.

“We found a strong link between higher fitness levels and a lower risk of heart attack and angina pectoris over the nine years following the measurements that were taken,” says researcher Bjarne Nes.

“Even among people who seem to be healthy, the top 25% of the most fit individuals actually have only half as high a risk as the least fit 25%.”

The researchers also found that even a small increase in fitness can significantly improve health. For each increase of 3.5 fitness points, the risk of heart attack or angina decreases by 15%.

“Our results should encourage people to use training as preventive medicine. A few months of regular exercise that gets you out of breath can be an effective strategy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says the study’s first author, Jon Magne Letnes.

“Fitness isn’t just a measure of how much you’ve trained in your life, but it also tells you what kind of genes you have. Other factors like obesity may also affect fitness. So we measure a lot of the body’s functions, and from other studies we know that both genes and physical activity play a role in how your heart and blood vessels function,” says Letnes.

He adds that although we can’t do much about our genes, we can change our exercise habits.

“Fitness testing can motivate patients to get into better shape over time, and it focuses on health promotion rather than on illness. Although it may be inconvenient and difficult to measure oxygen uptake at the doctor’s office, some simple and relatively accurate calculators exist that can provide a good estimate of fitness and disease risk,” he says.

To assess your own fitness at home, CERG has developed a fitness calculator which is currently recommended by US health authorities. The calculator is found at

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