The researchers found that fitness and regular physical exercise during young adulthood, particularly ages 18 to 30, play an important role in the development of heart disease risk factors in middle age. But the results do not mean that older people should not be concerned about staying in shape. At every stage of life, adults can do something to lower their risk of disease.
Given the current obesity epidemic and the decline in daily physical activity in the population, the researchers note that improving physical fitness in young men and women and developing health policies that encourage physical activity should be important health policy goals.
The study included more than 4,000 black and white men and women who were 18 to 30 years old when the study began. At the start of the study, participants completed an exercise test on a treadmill. The volunteers were classified into low, moderate and high fitness levels based on how long they could exercise on the treadmill. Fifteen years after the study began, people in the low and moderate fitness groups were much more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes and a condition called metabolic syndrome that increases the risk for diabetes and heart disease. After the researchers accounted for body mass index (BMI) � a measure of weight in relation to height � people in the low and moderate fitness groups were twice as likely to develop these conditions.
The results of the study suggest that people who improve their fitness level can reduce some health risks later in life. Among almost 2,500 participants who underwent a second round of exercise testing about halfway through the study, those who improved their endurance on the treadmill had a lower risk of diabetes and the metabolic syndrome in middle age.
The scientists estimate that if all young adults in the study had been physically fit, the number of cases of high blood pressure, diabetes and metabolic syndrome might have been 21 percent to 28 percent lower in middle age.
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