Middle Age: Not Too Late for Fitness

Heart failure risk can be reduced by getting in shape even if you’re middle aged

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

(RxWiki News) If you’re middle-aged and feeling unfit, you can still benefit from exercise. The American Heart Association says if you get moving at 40 or older, you can reduce heart failure risk.

Inactivity takes its toll on the body. Without regular physical activity, the body slowly loses strength, stamina and the ability to function well.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), each hour of regular exercise equals about two hours of additional life expectancy, even if you don't start until middle age.

A new report from the AHA has found that exercising when you’re older can also lower your risk of heart failure.

"Keep exercising as you get older to maintain heart health."

Ambarish Pandey, MD, internal medicine resident at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, led this research which ranked fitness levels of 9,050 men and women who were an average age of 48.

Participants took two fitness tests, eight years apart, during midlife.

After 18 years of follow-up, investigators reviewed fitness records and checked which patients were hospitalized for heart failure (using Medicare claims).

Heart failure may sound like the heart is not working at all, but it really means that the heart is weakened and not pumping as it should be.

“People who weren’t fit at the start of the study were at higher risk for heart failure after age 65,” said Dr. Pandey, who was lead author of the study. “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."

Dr. Pandey and colleagues gauged fitness levels using metabolic equivalents (METs). METs are measures of how patients perform on a treadmill. The researchers observed that participants’ heart failure risk dropped by 20 percent for each MET improvement in fitness.

For example, a 40-year-old who went from jogging 12 minutes per mile to running 10 minutes per mile had an increase of two METs. Dr. Pandey said that this individual reduced heart failure risk at a later age by 40 percent.

“Improving fitness is a good heart failure prevention strategy—along with controlling blood pressure and improving diet and lifestyle—that could be employed in midlife to decrease the risk of heart failure in later years,” Dr. Pandey said.

The AHA says that exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to offer the heart a lift. Moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, for as little as 30 minutes a day has proven health benefits.

The study was presented May 15 at the AHA's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2013 in Baltimore. As such, the research has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The American Heart Association funded the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 15, 2013
Last Updated:
August 13, 2013