Physical fitness reduces cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality

In the last 50 years, thanks to advances in medicine, it has been possible to prolong survival and identify risk diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Within these advances, physical fitness (PF) plays a fundamental role:

In 1989, The Cooper Institute published a study showing the relationship between FF and mortality. The study led to a change in disease prevention strategies, especially in the cardiology sector. Thanks to this study, in 1992, the American Heart Association included physical inactivity as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Since these early advances and thanks to research, much has been achieved in the screening, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, and as a result, the life expectancy of patients has increased. Mortality from heart disease has decreased by 67% and from stroke by 77%. This decrease is thanks to advances in the treatment and medication of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes or hypercholesterolemia. Research in hemodynamics, surgical techniques and the use of stents, in addition to the decrease in tobacco consumption, have reduced mortality rates.

Cancer mortality rates have improved over the last 30 years. This is thanks to the reduction in tobacco consumption, advances in screening programs and the incorporation of excellent aggressive treatments. However, technological progress has not reduced the occurrence of pathologies such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes or metabolic syndrome.

The Cooper Institute conducted a single-center prospective observational study to test the effects of FF on mortality. Two groups of men, aged 20 to 80 years, with a free history of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease were followed. Physical fitness was divided into three levels: low, moderate and high, according to the results obtained in the stress test and the age of the individuals. National death data and the International Coding of Diseases (ICD) were used to analyze the causes of mortality.

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The 5 most important points of the results are:

  1. Heart disease and cancer contributed 70.4% and 62.95%, respectively, in the deaths of individuals.
  2. There was a consistent inverse relationship between fitness (FF) and mortality in both groups. In both groups, an increase of 1 MET in the level of physical fitness reduced cancer mortality.
  3. A moderate level of fitness reduced mortality in both groups: in the first group by 40% and in the second by 24%.
  4. A high level of physical fitness reduced overall mortality by 47.5%.
  5. Mortality from all causes, whether cancer or cardiovascular disease, is reduced by fitness regardless of the group.

Fitness level is an excellent indicator to check the health status of the patient because it is related to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Estimation by maximum heart rate is a good FF parameter. It is necessary to be cautious and prepare a specific type of training for each individual, according to his or her physical level and sports skills.

Given that the physical fitness parameter is related to mortality actors, it should be included in the routine evaluation of patients, as is done with other risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, diabetes or cholesterol. In other words, FF levels should be incorporated as a quantifiable vital sign.

Currently, in our society it is necessary to promote actions that favor the improvement of FF levels, in order to reduce mortality from cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Health institutions and professionals should promote healthy lifestyles: physical exercise and a good diet. The best time to raise awareness of these aspects is during the schooling stage, so that from an early age we become accustomed to having consistency and maintaining good habits.