Reduce Heart Failure Risk by Getting Fit in Middle Age

Investigators ranked the fitness levels of over 9,000 men and women over the age of 48 who took two fitness tests – eight years apart – during mid-life. Following 18 years of follow-up, they synced the fitness information to Medicare claims for heart failure hospitalizations.

According to senior author of the study, Ambarish Pandey, M.D., “People who weren’t fit at the start of the study were at higher risk for heart failure after age 65. However, those who improved their fitness reduced their heart failure risk, compared to those who continued to have a low fitness level eight years later.”

For the study, researchers employed metabolic equivalents, a means of measuring how people perform on a treadmill test. For each MET improvement in fitness, an individual’s heart failure risk decreased by 20 percent. For example, if a 40-year-old went from jogging 12 minutes per mile to 10 minutes per mile – an increase of two METs – he or she would reduce their heart failure risk at a later age by 40 percent.

As a growing number of people survive heart attacks and live with heart disease, the population facing heart failure continues to expand. Over 5.1 million Americans live with heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. It is expected that by 2030, the prevalence of heart failure may increase 25 percent from 2013 estimates.

Pandey concludes, “Improving fitness is a good heart failure prevention strategy – along with controlling blood pressure and improving diet and lifestyle – that could be employed in mid-life to decrease the risk of heart failure in later years.”