Fitness in middle age reduces stroke risk later

Adults between the ages of 45 and 50 with higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are less likely to have a stroke after 65, according to a study published in the journal Stroke.

The study, headed up by Ambarish Pandey, MD, cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Minesh R. Patel, MD, cardiologist at Columbia University Medical Center, used Medicare claims and data from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study to analyze nearly 20,000 adults between 45 and 50 from 1999 to 2009. The Cooper data allowed researchers to organize patients by high, middle or low levels of fitness based on heart and lung exercise capacity.

The study said those participants with a higher level of fitness lowered their risk of stroke by 37 percent.

“We all hear that exercise is good for you, but many people don’t do it,” Pandey said in a statement. “Our hope is that this objective data on preventing a fatal disease such as stroke will help motivate people to get moving and get fit.”

The lowered risk of stroke remained after Pandey and coauthors accounted for risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and atrial fibrillation.

The study did have some notable limitations. Strokes that occurred before participants reached the age of 65 weren’t counted, and the participants were predominantly white and male with greater access to preventive care.

Despite those limitations, Pandey hoped making a connection between exercising in middle age and stroke will motivate both physicians and patients to change their habits.

“Low fitness is generally ignored as an actual risk factor in clinical practice,” Pandey said. “Our research suggests that low fitness in midlife is an additional risk to target and help prevent stroke later in life.”

Current American Heart Association guidelines recommend a weekly minimum of 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity exercise.