Fit teenagers less likely to have heart attack 30 years later

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Fit teens might have lower risk of heart attack later in life.

Aerobic fitness can protect teenagers from future heart attack, finds a new study. Researchers for the study also noted being lean during adulthood is also important for lower risk of heart attack, regardless of aerobic fitness level during adolescence.

Professor Peter Nordström, of Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden, who led the research, said in a press release: “Our findings suggest that high aerobic fitness in late adolescence may reduce the risk of heart attack later in life." He emphasized being both fit and having normal body mass index (BMI) "Is even better".

In their study, the researchers found heart attack risk later in life went down by 18 percent for every 15 percent increase in physical fitness during men's teen years.

The finding also suggested regular cardiovascular fitness training could reduce heart attack chances in adulthood by 35 percent.

“There were 7,575 myocardial infarctions 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,” explained Prof Nordström in a media release. “There were 271,005 men (43.7%) 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% in this group.”

Some limitations


There's little doubt that what we do early in life can have an effect on our health as we age. Though the finding suggests being physically fit as a teenager could mean lower chance of heart attack 30 to 40 years later, it doesn't prove it's so, Nordström explained.

The study did not look at other factors that contribute to heart disease, including genes. The study was also only carried out in men and may not apply to women or elders. The impact of smoking was also not evaluated.

Men in the study were followed for an average of 34 years. When the researchers compared men with the highest level of aerobic fitness to those with the lowest level, they found a 2.1 fold increased chance of heart attack even after they adjusted for other factors such as age and body mass index.

The finding is published January 8, 2014 in the European Heart Journal.

Compared with men in the highest fifth for aerobic fitness, men in the lowest fifth had 2.1-fold increased risk of a heart attack during the follow-up period, after adjusting for other factors. They also found overweight men had a significantly higher chance of heart attack, regardless of their fitness level.

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