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Physical Activity Today Gives Lasting Benefits

Positive effects can be seen decades later.

A new research study shows that staying fit and exercising in your youth confers lifetime benefits. A prospective study looking at 4,872 adults aged 18 to 30 years old followed their fitness from March 25, 1985 to August 31, 2011.

Participants underwent a baseline treadmill exercise test and roughly half of the participants underwent a second treadmill test seven years later. The treadmill test consisted of two-minute stages that gradually increases with intensity. The study spanned over 27 years looking at obesity, left ventricular mass and strain, coronary artery calcification, and vital status and incidence of cardiovascular disease.

The results of the study showed that each additional minute of baseline exercise test was associated with a 15% lower hazard risk of death as well as a 12% lower hazard risk of cardiovascular disease. Those with higher baseline also showed significantly lower left ventricular mass index and significantly better lobal longitudinal strain after 25 years.

In participants who underwent a second treadmill test, a one-minute reduction in being able to stay on the treadmill showed negative effects. The study found that each minute of reduction was associated with a 21% increase risk of death and a 20% increased risk of heart-related death.

Though the study’s results are not surprising, it validates our long held belief that exercise is important to good health. Individuals with higher levels of fitness at baseline and those who showed improvement in fitness early in adulthoods are positively associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Higher fitness also shows less strain on the heart leading to a much healthier life. Efforts should be made now to educate and encourage young adults to be engaged in physical activities to promote cardiovascular health.

Educating young adults on physical activity is critical in promoting a healthy future. Physical activity is any body movements that consumes more energy than when at rest. Some physical activity examples are swimming, dancing, walking, running, yoga, jogging, or any sports such as tennis, basketball, or football.

The American Heart Association states that physical activity is important in preventing heart disease and stroke, which are the nation’s number 1 and number 5 killers. For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association made two recommendations:

  • Individuals should exercise at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes.
  • Individuals should exercise for at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes with an additional 2 days per week of moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity.

For lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends an average of 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity 3 to 4 times per week.

Even if patients have been sedentary for years or cannot tolerate 30 minutes of exercise, it is still recommended that they start exercising today. Help the patient set attainable goals so that they can build their stamina and strength, which will help them progress to the recommendations. The simplest way to improved patient health is encouraging them to start walking. Walking is a free, enjoyable, and flexible activity regimen that has a high success rate.

Physical fitness appears to be a graded, independent, long-term predictor of mortality from cardiovascular causes in healthy, middle-aged men. A high level of fitness was also associated with lower mortality from any cause.

As healthcare providers, we need to promote a healthy lifestyle with every chance. Increasing physical activity today in patients not only confer health benefits for the individual but also decreases the burden of healthcare cost in the future. A simple 30-minutes-a-day walk can result in a lifetime of benefits.

Practice Pearls:

  • Being physically active in early adulthood confers long term lasting effects on cardiovascular health and mortality.
  • Each additional minute of baseline exercise test was associated with a 15% lower hazard risk of death as well as a 12% lower hazard risk of cardiovascular disease. Whereas, each minute of reduction was associated with a 21% increase risk of death and a 20% increased risk of heart related death.
  • The American Heart Association recommends a total of 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise a week to promote good cardiovascular health.

Shah, Ravi V., et al. “Association of Fitness in Young Adulthood With Survival and Cardiovascular Risk: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study.” JAMA Internal Medicine: 1-9.

“American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults”. American Heart Association. 6 December 2015.