Getting fit in middle age decreases chance of heart failure

 
By Amy Wimmer Schwarb • Published: September 16th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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It’s never too late to get fit.

That’s the message from new research unveiled this year at a national meeting for the American Heart Association.

A team of researchers determined that even people who improve their physical fitness in their 40s and 50s can decrease the risk of heart failure.

The research was exhaustive, with the team of research physicians assessing the health of more than 9,000 middled-aged men and women. These folks weren’t spring chickens, though they did still have some spring in their step: The average age of the test subjects was 48, putting them firmly in the “middle-aged” set.

The individuals took two fitness tests, eight years apart. Researchers also paired the test data with Medicare claims, determining which test subjects were hospitalized for heart failure.

Some people improved their fitness so much over the eight-year period that they actually performed better on a treadmill stress test the second time, even though they were eight years older. And even a moderate improvement made a difference: If you ran a 12-minute mile at 40 years of age, but then followed up that performance with a 10-minute mile at age 48, you would have reduced your risk of heart failure later in life by 40 percent.

And those findings didn’t take into account other opportunities for improving your health, such as quitting smoking or lowering your cholesterol.

The results remind us that even small steps can reap great rewards when it comes to heart health. Today, more than 5.1 million Americans live with heart failure, and some estimates suggest that number could increase by a quarter in the next 20 years.

Not only is it never too late to improve your level of fitness. It’s also better late than never.