Low fitness levels tied to higher risk for heart problems
OSLO (Reuters) – Low fitness levels have long been tied to higher risk for heart problems. Now researchers say men’s cardiorespiratory fitness is tied to their risk for stroke as well.
Researchers in Norway followed 2,014 middle-aged men for more than 20 years. Those who were unfit for the whole study period, or who started out fit but became less so, were twice as likely to have a stroke as those who stayed fit or became fit, they reported in the journal Stroke.
“Stroke is a devastating condition that can be lethal and leaves most patients disabled or speech impaired for life,” said lead study author Dr. Erik Prestgaard from Oslo University Hospital in a phone interview.
“Prevention is important,” he added, “and patients can directly change their fitness.”
The men in the study were enrolled in 1972-1975 at ages 40 to 59. At the start and again seven years later, their cardiorespiratory fitness was assessed with a bicycle test and with measurements of blood pressure and heart rate.
Researchers then followed the men’s health for about 24 years through medical records and national registries.
Based on the men’s cardiorespiratory fitness trend between the initial assessments seven years apart, about 39 percent of them “remained fit” (i.e., maintained an average fitness level throughout). Another 39 percent “remained unfit” (started out below average and stayed there). Eleven percent “became unfit” (dropped from above average), and another 11 percent “became fit” (improved from below average to above average).
Overall, 199 men had strokes, with the highest risk seen among those who became unfit.
The average age of first stroke was 73 in both of the unfit groups, 75 in the “remained fit” and 77 in the “became fit” groups, the study team notes.