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Low physical capacity ‘second-deadliest’ risk factor for men

A new study in middle-aged men has shown that the impact of low physical capacity on risk of death is second only to smoking.

Lead author Per Ladenvall of the University of Gothenburg said, “The benefits of being physically active over a lifetime are clear. Low physical capacity is a greater risk for death than high blood pressure or high cholesterol.”

The study included 792 men from the “Study of Men Born in 1913,” a representative sample of 50 year old men in Gothenburg recruited in 1963. The study was designed to investigate risk factors for cardiovascular disease and mortality.

In 1967, at 54 years of age, the 792 men did an exercise test. Of those, 656 men also did a maximum exercise test in which they pushed themselves to the limit. The remaining men were excluded from the maximum exercise test because they had a health condition that could make it unsafe. Maximal oxygen uptake, called VO2 max, was measured in a subpopulation of the 656 men using ergospirometry.

Ladenvall said: “VO2 max is a measure of aerobic capacity and the higher the figure, the more physically fit a person is. In 1967 it was difficult to do ergospirometry in large populations, so the researchers derived a formula using the measurements in the subpopulation, and then calculated predicted VO2 max for the remaining 656 men who had done the maximum exercise test.”

“We found that low aerobic capacity was associated with increased rates of death. The association between exercise capacity and all-cause death was graded, with the strongest risk in the tertile with the lowest maximum aerobic capacity. The effect of aerobic capacity on risk of death was second only to smoking,” Ladenvall noted.

Ladenvall concluded: “We have come a long way in reducing smoking. The next major challenge is to keep us physically active and also to reduce physical inactivity, such as prolonged sitting.”

The study is published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.