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Arnold School of Public Health

Arnold School researchers find higher fitness levels can delay elevated levels of cholesterol for men by 15 years

May 19, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, 

Researchers* from the Arnold School of Public Health have determined that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness may delay increases in blood cholesterol levels by up to 15 years for men. These increases, which commonly occur with aging, tend to rise until middle age before declining after age 60, when cardiovascular disease may already be established for many individuals.

“Age-related changes in cholesterol levels are usually unfavorable,” says Xuemei Sui, assistant professor of exercise science and a co-author on the study. “Our study sought to determine how cardiorespiratory fitness might modify the aging trajectory for lipid and lipoproteins in healthy men.”

It is well known that higher levels of cholesterol are associated with chronic heart disease. These risk factors can be modified, however, with higher levels of physical activity. Yet there is limited evidence from previous studies that demonstrates the effects of cardiorespiratory fitness on lipids, such as cholesterol or fat, due to age in a longitudinal data set.

The current study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, used data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study to examine cholesterol levels in more than 11,000 male participants, ages 20 to 90, between 1970 and 2006. They also looked at individuals’ cardiorespiratory fitness (i.e., the body’s ability to supply oxygen to the muscles during exercise and the body’s ability to use that oxygen), an indicator of regular physical activity, using a treadmill exercise test.

The authors found that men with lower cardiorespiratory fitness were more likely to develop high cholesterol in their early 30s whereas men with high fitness did not experience high cholesterol until their mid-40s. “These findings suggest that improving cardiorespiratory fitness levels may delay the onset of dyslipidemia, a condition characterized by an abnormal amount of lipids in the blood,” says Sui. “Promoting this healthy lifestyle factor may also help to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.”

Findings from this study have received extensive coverage by popular press media outlets (e.g., US News & World Report, MSN,Daily Mail).

*Additional Arnold School co-authors on the study include lead author Mark Park Yong-Moon (doctoral student, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics) and co-authors Junxiu Liu, (doctoral student, Department of Epidemiology and Biostastics), Peter F. Kokkinos (Washington DC, VA medical center), James W. Hardin (Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics) andSteven N. Blair (Department of Exercise Science).

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