People who are obese or out of shape in their 40s or 50s might think it's too
late to start getting fit, but new research finds that shaping up in middle age
lowers the odds for heart failure later in life.
What's more, the reduction in risk is independent of other modifiable risk
factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, the
"It's never too late to get fit," said lead researcher Dr Ambarish Pandey, an
internal medicine resident at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical
Center at Dallas.
"Fitness is a significant risk factor for heart failure," Pandey said. "But
if someone who is not fit in middle age improves his fitness over the years and
gets in better shape, the risk of heart failure decreases."
Prevalence of heart failure
Heart failure - when the heart can't pump enough blood to the rest of the
body - is increasing as more people survive heart attacks and live longer with
heart disease. More than 5 million Americans have the condition, and that number
could increase 25% by 2030, according to the American Heart Association.
Heart failure is the most common reason older adults are hospitalised and
rehospitalised, said American Heart Association spokesman Dr Gregg Fonarow.
"One in five adults will develop heart failure in their lifetime, and 670 000
men and women in the United States will develop heart failure this year," said
Fonarow, director of the Cardiomyopathy Center at the David Geffen School of
Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
About half of people who develop heart failure die within five years of
diagnosis, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Yet in many cases, heart failure is preventable by maintaining
cardiovascular health and control of heart failure risk factors," Fonarow said.
"These new findings suggest that improving cardiovascular fitness levels may be
an effective way of lowering heart failure."
What the study found
For the study, Pandey's team assessed fitness levels of more than 9 000
middle-aged men and women with an average age of 48 who were tested twice, eight
After 18 years of follow-up, the researchers matched the results with
Medicare claims for heart failure hospitalizations.
They found that people who weren't physically fit at the start of the study
had a higher risk of heart failure after age 65. But those whose fitness
improved on the tests had a lower risk of heart failure later on than those
whose fitness remained poor.
Using a treadmill test to measure what are called "metabolic equivalents,"
the researchers found the risk for heart failure dropped 20% for each
improvement in metabolic equivalents.
If a 40-year-old improved from jogging a 12-minute mile to a 10-minute mile,
an increase of two metabolic equivalents, the risk for heart failure would have
dropped 40%, Pandey said.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings should be considered preliminary
until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
For more information on heart failure, visit the American