Study Finds Link Between Adolescent Fitness in Men and Risk of MI Later in Life

The more aerobically fit men were in late adolescence, the less likely they were to have a heart attack 30 or 40 years later, according to a study published Jan. 8 in the European Heart Journal.

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The study, which followed nearly 750,000 Swedish men who underwent medical examinations at the age of 18 when they were conscripted into compulsory military service between 1969 and 1984, found that the relationship between aerobic fitness and MI occurred regardless of the men’s body mass index (BMI) when they were teenagers and that fit but overweight men had a significantly higher risk of a MI than their unfit, leaner counterparts.

Professor Peter Nordström, of Umeå University, who led the research, says, “Our findings suggest that high aerobic fitness in late adolescence may reduce the risk of heart attack later in life. However, being very fit does not appear to fully compensate for being overweight or obese in respect to this risk. Our study suggests that it’s more important not to be overweight or obese than to be fit, but that it’s even better to be both fit and a normal weight.”

Along with his team, Nordström’s results found that every 15 percent increase in aerobic fitness was linked to an approximate 18 percent reduced risk of heart attack 30 years later after adjusting for various confounding factors that included socioeconomic background and BMI. The data also suggested that regular cardiovascular training in late adolescence was independently associated with an approximate 35 percent reduced risk of an early heart attack later in life.

“There were 7,575 MIs in 620,089 men during the total follow-up time where aerobic fitness was measured, which means the cumulative incidence was about 1222 per 100,000 men,” explains Prof Nordström. “There were 271,005 men (43.7 percent) who were normal weight or lean, and who had an aerobic fitness that was better than the average. Among these lean, fit men there were 2176 MIs, resulting in a cumulative incidence of about 803 MIs per 100,000 men. Thus, the cumulative incidence of MIs was reduced by about 35 percent in this group.”

While Nordström is quick to emphasize that the study showed only an association between fitness and a reduction in MIs, and it did not show that being aerobically fit caused the reduced risk of MI, the information obtained is a great step forward in preventative awareness.

“As far as we know, this is the first study to investigate the links between an objective measure of physical fitness in teenagers and risk of heart attack in the general population” says Nordström. “Further studies are needed to investigate the clinical relevance of these findings, but given the strong association that we have found, the low cost and easy accessibility of cardiovascular training, and the role of heart disease as a major cause of illness and death worldwide, these results are important with respect to public health.”

Clinical Topics: Sports and Exercise Cardiology

Keywords: Heart Diseases, Incidence, Public Health, Physical Fitness, Military Personnel, Awareness

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