According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in the adult population, particularly among men. This has largely been attributed to the fact that fitness or physical activity declines with age in both males and females, with an increase is age-related diseases as a consequence. Added to the fact that obesity is on the rise due to inactive lifestyles, younger people are becoming prone to CVD with a concomitant increase in associated death risks.
A recent study found that having high fitness levels can reduce death risks associated with CVD in middle to upper class Caucasian males, regardless of body weight. The researchers sampled a population of 14,345 adult Caucasian men with an average age of 44 years. The men underwent a physical fitness test using maximal treadmill tests, and their height and body weight were recorded to calculate their Body mass Index (BMI). The BMI is used as a measure of body fat where the normal range is between 18 and 25, overweight is between 25 and 29 and obese to severely obese is any score above 30 and 35 respectively.
The researchers also included other measurements which they thought could affect the outcome of the results such as family history of CVD, starting fitness levels, social lifestyle factors such smoking, drinking and physical activities as well as medical conditions such as blood pressure and diabetes. After 11 years of follow-up, the researcher collated data over six years. The results were astounding in that they found that found that death risk was not associated with changes in BMI, but rather with fitness levels. They found that men who maintained or improved their fitness levels had lower death risks from cardiovascular disease, stroke and any other cause than those who did not. Out of a total of 14,345, 300 died from CVD and 614 died from other causes (a total of 914).
Those who had died from CVD had low fitness levels and were physically inactive; in addition they had significantly higher levels of hypertension, blood pressure, diabetes, alcohol consumption and also had parents who had CVD. These results indicate the importance of physical activity in maintaining longevity. However, the authors caution against the strong interpretation of these results because the study subjects used here were overweight and Caucasian, rather they suggest the results may differ in obese people or those with high BMI scores, as well as amongst races, which may have alternative outcomes on death risks.
Duck-Chul Lee, Xuemei Sui, Enrique G. Artero, I-Min Lee, Timothy S. Church, Paul A. Mcauley, Fatima C. Stanford, Harold W. Kohl III, Steven N. Blair. Long-Term Effects of Changes in Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Body Mass Index on All-Cause and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Men: The Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. Circulation, 2011, 124: 2483-2490