Fit Teenagers Reduce Heart Attack Risk Later in Life

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Researchers in Sweden have discovered that a high level of fitness as a teenager is associated with a reduced risk of having a heart attack 30 or 40 years later in life. Their conclusion was based on analyzing an average of 34 years of data from more than 620,000 men from the time they first underwent medical examinations and fitness tests as eighteen-year-old draftees in the Swedish army.

The researchers’ findings were based on looking at the aerobic fitness data of the draftees, sorting individuals into five categories of fitness (from low to high), and then searching for cardiovascular events in later life. There were some 7,575 heart attacks during the total follow-up years. Compared with men at the highest level of fitness at age 18, the individuals with the lowest level had just over twice the risk of heart attack.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, was said to be the first to investigate the link between objective measurements of physical fitness among teenagers and the risk of heart attack decades later in life.

 My Viewpoint: As a teenager, I participated in the school wrestling and football programs, and put a good deal of attention on my fitness level. So I relate to this study. It’s an important confirmation of trouble ahead as a result of physical inactivity. It is well documented that sedentary living and poor food choices contribute to the growing incidence of diabetes among adolescents, and the association with the beginnings of arterial disease in adolescents goes back more than a half-century.

 What this Means to You: If you have teenagers, the message here is obvious. Even if your child is far from an all-star, the benefits of having fun and memorable experiences, promoting better health, and making friendships are available to all who participate.

 Recommendation: Encourage your kids to get involved in some kind of regular physical activity, whether it is on a recreational or organized basis.

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