Low Fitness Levels Can Still Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Risk

Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, November 8th, 2016
Even low physical fitness was found to be sufficient in creating a preventive effect on a majority of the risk factors that affect individuals with cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death around the world, accounting for 31% of global mortality. Increased risk factors for heart disease includes abdominal circumference, depression, diabetes, dyslipidemia, excess weight, hypertension, obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking.

Although studies have shown that being active reduces cardiovascular mortality, humans have become increasingly sedentary over the years.

“We know from many studies that good physical fitness reduces cardiovascular mortality, and that physical activity has a positive impact on cardiovascular risk factors following a rehab program,” said lead study author Maxime Caru, whose findings were published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention. “However, the impact of physical fitness level on risk factors has remained an open question. That is why our research team asked the question: ‘Is good physical condition required to produce a preventive effect on these cardiovascular risk factors.”

For the study, researchers looked to measure the impact physical fitness had on heart disease risk factors. Forty-four women and 205 men with heart disease, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart valve disease, and stoke, were enrolled in the study.

All participants had to undergo a cycle ergometer stress test to determine their level of fitness. The results of the study showed that normal physical fitness, even up to 20% below the population average, is sufficient to have a preventive effect on 5 out of 8 risk factors that affect individuals with cardiovascular disease.

Normal physical fitness means having the physical fitness of a person of the same weight, height, sex, age, and disease status. The easiest way to achieve this is to follow World Health Organization recommendations of 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

“It is common to meet people entering a cardia rehab center who are totally out of shape and whose exercise is irregular or non-existent, which has a harmful effect on general and cardiovascular health,” Caru said.

Depression is also a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease because patients who have expressed a depressive state tend to have recurring heart problems. The findings address this issue, indicating the importance of a good fitness level, both before and after a heart attack, in order to produce a preventive effect on depression.

“This is great news for people with heart disease who have difficult adhering to a regular – mainly aerobic – exercise program,” said lead researcher Daniel Curnier. “Small improvements in their fitness level are enough. You don’t have to be a great athlete to benefit from these effects.”

Although the findings provide further knowledge on the overall role of physical fitness in the onset of risk factors in patients with cardiovascular disease, authors stressed that these patients consult their physician prior to becoming involved in an exercise program, and to consult a kinesiologist as well.

“Only these professionals are able to know which type of exercise is safe for your condition and how to implement an exercise program,” authors said.

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