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Fit Young Adults Reap Heart Benefits in later Life

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Getting in shape during young adulthood may pay off in the long run, researchers report.

Getting in shape during young adulthood may pay off in the long run, researchers report. In a new study, people who were in the best cardiovascular shape as young adults were least likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes and other cardiovascular risk factors later in life. And people who got in better shape during the 15-year study were able to reduce some of their risks, according to a report in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Fitness during young adulthood, ages 18 to 30, plays an important role in the development of heart disease risk factors in middle age,” lead investigator Dr. Mercedes R. Carnethon of Northwestern University in Chicago told Reuters Health. “Adults can improve this important risk factor, and our results suggest that they should do so early in life and continue throughout life to maintain optimal health,” Carnethon said. But the results do not mean that older people should not be concerned about staying in shape. “At every stage of life, adults can do something to lower their risk of disease,” according to Carnethon. The Chicago researcher noted that previous research has shown that regular physical exercise can improve fitness. She added, “Given the current obesity epidemic and the decline in daily physical activity in the population, improving physical fitness in young men and women and developing health policies that encourage physical activity should be important health policy goals.” The study included more than 4,000 black and white men and women who were 18 to 30 years old when the study began. At the start of the study, participants completed an exercise test on a treadmill. The volunteers were classified into low, moderate and high fitness levels based on how long they could exercise on the treadmill. Fifteen years after the study began, people in the low and moderate fitness groups were much more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes and a condition called metabolic syndrome that increases the risk for diabetes and heart disease. After the researchers accounted for body mass index (BMI) – a measure of weight in relation to height – people in the low and moderate fitness groups were twice as likely to develop these conditions. Low to moderate fitness as a young adult was also related to high cholesterol in middle age, but this relationship was no longer statistically significant after researchers accounted for BMI. The results of the study also suggest that people who improve their fitness level can reduce some health risks later in life. Among almost 2,500 participants who underwent a second round of exercise testing about halfway through the study, those who improved their endurance on the treadmill had a lower risk of diabetes and the metabolic syndrome in middle age. Carnethon and her colleagues estimate that if all young adults in the study had been physically fit, the number of cases of high blood pressure, diabetes and metabolic syndrome might have been 21 percent to 28 percent lower in middle age. (Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, Reuters Health, MEDLINE Plus Dec 2003)

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Posted On: 18 December, 2003
Modified On: 3 December, 2013


Created by: myVMC