Get Fit Week! Ideal Cardiovascular Fitness

Get Fit Week

As our year comes to a close, we would like to present our last themed series of posts, a part of GET FIT WEEK. These posts will focus on the scientific evidence and guidelines for obtaining and mantaining physical fitness, with a focus on health benefits and tools for achieving these goals.

Ideal Cardiovascular Fitness

It makes sense to start with ideal cardiovascular fitness! The American Heart Association 2020 Strategic Goals include this idea. It is defined as optimal levels of three cardiovascular risk factors (blood pressure, fasting glucose, cholersterol) and 4 lifestyle behaviors (BMI, smoking, physical activity, and diet). In a cohort study of ~5800 young adults (age range of 29 to 39 years) from the United States, Finland, and Australia, investigators compared the presence of these 7 measures of ideal cardiovascular fitness with carotid intima-media thickness. The ideal numbers for each metric is as follows: BP 120/80, total cholesterol < 5.17 mmol/L, fasting glucose < 5.6 mmol/L, BMI < 25 kg/m2, and no history of smoking (or quit > 1 year ago). Ideal physical activity was defined as >150 min/week of moderate exertion or > 75 min/week of vigorous exertion. The concept of the ideal diet was most complicated, requiring 4 of the following 5 components: > 4.5 cups of fruits or vegetables per day, > two 3.5 oz servings of fish per week, > three 1 oz servings of whole grains per day, < 1500 mg sodium per day, and < 450 kcal from sugary drinks per week. One of the most notable aspects of this study was that only 1% of the participants had all 7 ideal CV health metrics! The findings of the study indicated that, with the presence of each additional “ideal” measure (i.e. well-controlled BP, recommended levels of physical activity, etc.), carotid intima-media thickness was significantly lower. Essentially, this suggests that physical fitness, as defined by the above measures of blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, smoking, etc., not only makes you feel great, (and need less medications!), it appears to have a significant impact on the burden of atherosclerotic disease. The authors note that “this finding and the fact that complete ideal CV health was very rare among this large sample of young adults strengthen the need for early evaluation of CV risk factors and for development of effective intervention strategies for behavioral change.” The next question is, does this translate into a mortality benefit. To read the full study, click here.

Oikonen MLaitinen TTMagnussen CGSteinberger JSinaiko ARDwyer TVenn ASmith KJHutri-Kahonen N,Pahkala Ket al. Ideal cardiovascular health in young adult populations from the United States, Finland, and Australia and its association with cIMT: the International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohort Consortium. J Am Heart Assoc. 2013;2:e000244