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High Fitness Levels May Reduce Death Risk From Cardiovascular Disease In Men: Study

This study looked at the relationship between blood pressure, fitness, and the risk of cardiovascular death.

High Fitness Levels May Reduce Death Risk From Cardiovascular Disease In Men: Study File photo

Being healthy may reduce the chance of dying from cardiovascular disease in men with high blood pressure. This finding is the result of a 29-year investigation. The study's findings were published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, an ESC journal. "This was the first study to evaluate the joint effects of fitness and blood pressure on the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease," study author Professor Jari Laukkanen of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, Finland, said. 

"The findings suggest that physical activity may help avoid some of the negative effects of high blood pressure." Around 1.3 billion persons between the ages of 30 and 79 suffer from hypertension or high blood pressure. Globally, hypertension is one of the main causes of premature death and a significant risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. High levels of cardiorespiratory fitness have been associated with longer lifespans, according to previous studies. 

This study looked at the relationship between blood pressure, fitness, and the risk of cardiovascular death. The study included 2,280 men aged 42 to 61 years living in eastern Finland and enrolled in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Baseline measurements were conducted between 1984 and 1989. These included blood pressure and cardiorespiratory fitness, which was assessed as maximal oxygen uptake while riding a stationary bicycle. 

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Blood pressure was classified as normal or high, and fitness was classified as low, medium, or high. The average age at baseline was 53 years. Participants were followed up until 2018. During a median follow-up of 29 years, there were 644 deaths due to cardiovascular disease. The risk of death from cardiovascular disease was analysed after adjusting for age, body mass index, cholesterol levels, smoking status, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, use of antihypertensive medication, alcohol consumption, physical activity, socioeconomic status, and high sensitivity C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation). 

Considering blood pressure alone, compared to normal values, high blood pressure was associated with a 39 percent increased risk of cardiovascular mortality (hazard ratio [HR] 1.39; 95 percent confidence interval [CI] 1.17-1.63). Considering fitness alone, compared with high levels, low fitness was associated with a 74 percent elevated likelihood of cardiovascular death (HR 1.74; 95 percent CI 1.35-2.23). 

To evaluate the joint associations of blood pressure and fitness with the risk of cardiovascular death, participants were categorised into four groups: 1) normal blood pressure and high fitness (this was the reference group for comparison); 2) normal blood pressure and low fitness; 3) high blood pressure and high fitness; 4) high blood pressure and low fitness. Men with high blood pressure and low fitness had a more than doubled risk of cardiovascular death compared to those with normal blood pressure and high fitness (HR 2.35; 95 percent CI 1.81-3.04). 

When men with high blood pressure had high fitness levels, their elevated risk of cardiovascular risk persisted but was weaker: it was 55 percent higher than those with normal blood pressure and high fitness (HR 1.55; 95 percent CI 1.16-2.07). 

Professor Laukkanen said: "Both high blood pressure and low fitness levels were each associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death. High fitness levels attenuated, but did not eliminate, the increased risk of cardiovascular mortality in men with elevated blood pressure."