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Arnold School of Public Health

Researchers author scientific statement for American Heart Association, recommending fitness become clinical vital sign

December 12, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, 

Arnold School researchers Xuemei Sui (Assistant Professor of Exercise Science) and Steven Blair (Retired Professor of Exercise Science and Epidemiology & Biostatistics) have co-authored a newly released scientific statement led by Queen’s University Professor Robert Ross. The statement, put forth by the American Heart Association, cites substantial evidence that cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is a reflection of overall cardiovascular health and should therefore be measured in clinical practice to provide important information for patient care.

The authors assert that decades of research have demonstrated that low levels of CRF are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than other established risk factors (e.g., cigarette smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes). This elevated risk extends to mortality from all causes and particularly to mortality attributable to various types of cancer.

Higher levels of CRF are associated with improved cardiovascular outcomes as well as improved outcomes for dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, depression, Type 2 diabetes, surgical risk, and certain forms of cancer. Even modest increases in CRF levels can reduce cardiovascular disease mortality by more than 50 percent.

“This is good news as for many people, moderate levels of physical activity consistent with current recommendations may be all that is needed to derive a clinically significant benefit for habitually sedentary individuals,” says Ross.

With these benefits in mind, the authors strongly recommend that clinicians incorporate CRF measures into their standard clinical care. Assessing CRF involves measuring the ability of the heart, lungs, and blood to transport oxygen to muscles. It also measures the muscles’ use of that oxygen during physical activity.

“It sounds complicated, but this extremely valuable measure is actually simple to perform,” says Sui. “It can be done through a routine fitness test.”

“Routine estimation of CRF in clinical practice is no more difficult than measuring blood pressure,” adds Ross. “The addition of CRF for risk classification presents health professionals with unique opportunities to improve patient management and encourage lifestyle-based strategies designed to reduce cardiovascular risk.”


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