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Early fitness cuts heart risk

Wednesday January 8th, 2014

Men who were fit and healthy as teenagers tend to have a lower risk of heart attack later in life, according to the findings of a major study published today.

Being fit in youth helps protect the heart - but may not counteract the effects of obesity, researchers say.

The researchers were led by Professor Peter Nordstrom, of Umea University, Sweden. They explain that because heart disease is the leading global cause of death, it's vital to identify all modifiable risk factors. So they looked at the possible link between physical fitness in adolescence and heart attack in later life.

Information was taken on 743,498 Swedish men whose aerobic fitness and muscle strength were tested at the age of 18 during national conscription (1969 to 1984). This was compared against their rate of heart attack over the following 34 years, recorded in national registers.

Once several risk factors were taken into account, physical fitness was significantly linked to heart attack. For every 15% increase in aerobic fitness, there was an 18% reduced risk of a heart attack 30 years later. The benefit was seen across all body mass index groups. Full results appear today (8 January) in the European Heart Journal.

The authors write: "We report a significant graded association between aerobic fitness in late adolescence and heart attack later in life in men. However, obese men with a high aerobic fitness had a higher risk of heart attack than lean men with a low aerobic fitness."

Professor Nordstrom added: "Being very fit does not appear to fully compensate for being overweight or obese in respect to this risk."

Christopher Allen of the British Heart Foundation commented: "This research shows that our adolescent lifestyle choices may leave a permanent legacy. This study reinforces the importance of teenage exercise in reducing the risk of a heart attack."

Hogstrom, G. et al. High aerobic fitness in late adolescence is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction later in life: a nationwide cohort study in men. European Heart Journal 8 January 2014 doi:10.1093/eurheartj/eht527

Tags: Europe | Fitness | Heart Health | Infancy to Adolescence | Menís Health

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