On Your Mark, Get Set, Know Your Risk

Heart disease risk later in life can be predicted by fitness levels

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Do you know how fast you can run a mile? If not, maybe you should find out. It could let you know your risk of dying of heart attack or stroke.

How fast a middle-aged man can run a mile can give them an idea of their chances of dying from heart attack or stroke decades into the future. For middle-aged women, the time it takes to run a mile can be an early sign of heart disease.

"Speak with your doctor regarding excercise routines."

Scientists are always searching for better ways to spot which patients have the highest risk for heart disease. Tests that look at blood samples and special imaging technology have been used to improve the ability to predict risk.

Researchers have not looked at fitness as a possible sign of heart disease until now, says Dr. Jarett Berry, assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and an author of both studies that made these findings.

The first study looked at the risk of heart disease in more than 11,000 men who were 45, 55, and 65 years of age.

In order to measure heart disease risk, researchers looked at the men's fitness level by having participants run on a special treadmill. They also measured risk using other common measures like age, blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and smoking habits.

The researchers found that middle-aged men with lower fitness levels may have a higher risk of heart disease over the course of their life.

One of their findings, for example, was that a 55-year-old man who can run a mile in 15 minutes has a 30 percent risk of getting heart disease in their lifetime. However, a 55-year-old man who can run a mile in eight minutes has a much lower risk (less than 10 percent).

It can be hard to judge the risk of heart disease in women under the age of 50. However, a second study found that the same treadmill test used in the first study is better than other tools at predicting the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.

Heart disease affects older people more often than middle-aged people. This research, says Dr. Berry, shows that drug treatment for stopping heart disease may need to start earlier than was thought - in a person's 40s or 50s.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 19, 2011
Last Updated:
May 19, 2011