Are You At Risk for a Heart Attack?

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of premature death in America, and while the risk factors are fairly well known, they're not the best predictors of heart attack or stroke risk.

Several studies using thousands of participants found that a very simple fitness test is a better predictor of heart attack risk than high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking habits. Want to know what the test is? A one mile run. The faster you can complete the run, the lower your overall threat of cardiovascular death.

The Research and Results

In one study reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology,  heart disease risk factors were assessed in more than 11,000 45, 55 and 65 year-old-men before 1990. The men were tracked and 1,106 deaths due to cardiovascular disease were recorded. Risk factors assessed included age, fitness level, blood pressure, diabetes, total cholesterol and smoking habits.

Based on all of the risk factors, fitness level was the best predictor of life span and risk of heart attack. For instance, a 55 year-old-man who ran a mile in 15 minutes had a 30 percent risk of developing heart disease, while another 55 year-old-man who could run the mile in eight minutes only had a 10 percent risk.

A second study performed at UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas found that the one-mile treadmill run was the best predictor of death due to heart disease or stroke. In this study 66,000 participants without heart disease were tested. At the onset of the study, participants were between the ages of 20 and 90. At the end of the 35 year testing period, 1,621 cardiovascular deaths occurred. Based on fitness testing, researchers were able to better predict both short term and long term risk of death from heart disease. This was particularly helpful in gauging women's risk of death because so few studies to date have been performed on women.

The Takeaway

Know your risk factors and take your health into your own hands. Keep your heart as healthy and strong as you can by aiming to exercise between 150 and 300 minutes each week. Rather than focusing on pounds on the scale test your overall health by tracking your progress with this simple test which can be performed anywhere with just a stopwatch.

Active logoKeep your heart healthy with a training plan.


Laura Williams writes about exercise and fitness for Exercise.com through her regular column "Exercise Science". She is currently completing her master's in Exercise Science.

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