Physical Fitness Cuts Risk of Heart Disease

Brandon Parsons
April 11, 2018

The study found that exercise, particularly cardiorespiratory exercise, appeared to outweigh genetics when it came to heart disease, lowering the risk of the condition irrespective of whether a person was at low, medium or high risk.

The lead author of this research is Dr. Emmi Tikkanen, PhD, a former postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University and he is now senior data scientist at Nightingale Health Finland.

In one of the largest observational studies on fitness and heart disease, researchers examined data collected from almost a half-million people in the UK Biobank database.

While talking about the participants with high genetic risk, the highest cardiorespiratory fitness levels were associated with a 49 percent lower risk for developing coronary heart disease and a 60 percent lower risk for developing atrial fibrillation compared with study participants with low fitness.

That situation changed Monday with the publication of a study in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Given little has been known about the risk-modifying effects of exercise in individuals with increased genetic risk of cardiovascular disease, these results could have important ramifications for public health the study said.

When they entered the study, none of the participants had any evidence of heart disease. The investigators found that people with higher levels of grip strength, physical activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness had reduced risks of heart attacks and stroke, even if they had a genetic predisposition for heart disease.

To assess their fitness and activity levels, participants completed grip-strength and stationary-cycling tests, answered questions about levels of physical activity, and wore accelerometers on their wrists for a seven-day period. Those people who were more active showed a decrease of nearly 50 percent of major heart incidents compared to people who were not active in their lifestyle. The researchers say that may be because the participants inaccurately reported their level of physical activity.

"The main message of this study is that being physically active is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, even if you have a high genetic risk", said Erik Ingelsson, lead author of the study.

"We can't definitely claim a causal connection, observational studies are created to establish trends". But factors not included in that adjustment might also explain the study's results. According to ABC News, study participants also had other risk factors as well which made them at greater risk for Heart Disease including: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

People with such a risk should "discuss a physical activity plan with a physician", he added.

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