Staying fit from a young age reduces the risk of heart attacks

A new study published in the European Heart Journal shows that fitness in early adulthood affects the likelihood of developing heart disease in later life.

The research project involved a review of data gathered from 743,498 Swedish men who were given physical examinations at age 18 during the years 1969 to 1984; at the time the young men were entering that country’s national service.

As part of their health evaluation, the men were instructed to cycle to the point of exhaustion in order to rate their level of fitness.

Researchers followed the health records of the study group until January 1, 2011.

Researchers found that fit teenagers significantly reduced their chances of suffering a heart attack when compared to others in the group. It also showed that overweight fit people were more likely to suffer a heart attack than those teenagers who were unfit but lean.  

Lead researcher Peter Nordström, a professor at the Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Geriatrics, at Umeå University commented:

"While being physically fit at the end of your teens can reduce the risk of heart attack, fitness alone does not appear to fully compensate for the risks with being overweight or obese. In other words, having a normal weight is more important than being in good physical shape, but it is even better to be both fit and have a normal weight." 

The study also found that as fitness levels rise, the chances of a suffering a heart attack falls incrementally.

"The heart attack risk was reduced with about 35% among lean men and those with a normal weight at the end of their teens. But the study only shows that there is a correlation between fitness and a reduced prevalence of heart attack; we were unable to show specifically that a higher level of physical fitness reduces the risk of heart attacks," says, professor Nordström.

These study results highlight the importance of reducing obesity and inactivity in children and young adults.