Fitness Helps Even 'High Cholesterol' Hearts

Study: Fitness Cuts Men's Deaths From Heart Disease Even When Cholesterol Is High

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 29, 2005

Aug. 29, 2005 -- Men can cut their odds of dying from heart disease in half in about the time it takes to watch a feature-length movie, new research shows.

Being fit enough to walk for around 130 minutes per week slashed heart disease death risk by 50% -- even in men with high cholesterol -- according to a study in Circulation.

"The message for men is that fitness counts and it is time to get in shape," says researcher Peter Katzmarzyk, PhD, in an American Heart Association news release.

Cholesterol Study

Katzmarzyk is an associate professor at the School of Physical and Health Education at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

He and his colleagues studied more than 19,000 men for a decade. The men had gone to the Cooper Clinic in Dallas between 1979 and 1995.

At the clinic, the men filled out health questionnaires, got preventive medical exams, and took an exercise test.

Some of the men had acceptable levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol. Others had high cholesterol requiring lifestyle changes and/or medication.

Over the next 10 years, 179 men died of heart disease. As expected, men with high cholesterol were more likely to die of heart disease than men with normal LDL levels. But fitness shifted the odds a bit.

Fitness Findings

Men who were physically fit were half as likely to die of heart disease as unfit men with similar cholesterol levels, the study shows.

How fit did the men have to be? Their fitness test scores translate to four or five weekly workouts, each lasting 30 minutes. That's the equivalent of walking for 130-138 minutes per week, write the researchers.

"We discovered that fitness is important across the board -- at every level of cholesterol," says Katzmarzyk.

Most of the men were white, college-educated professionals. It's not known if the results would be identical for men of other backgrounds or if participants' fitness habits changed over time.

However, fitness is widely recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle. The CDC recommends getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five or more days per week or 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity three or more times weekly.

Consult your doctor before starting a fitness program. Health care professionals can also check your cholesterol levels and tailor a heart-health program to suit your needs.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Ardern, C. Circulation, Aug. 30, 2005; Rapid Access online edition. News release, American Heart Association. CDC: "Physical Activity for Everyone: Recommendations."

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