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Unfit, Skinny People Have Lower Risk of Heart Attacks than Fit, Obese People

Update Date: Jan 09, 2014 03:49 PM EST

A nutritious diet and an active lifestyle are two main components in leading a healthy, overall life. Several studies have found that exercise is important regardless of one's weight. However, a new study found that unfit, lean people might be better protected against heart attacks than obese people who are more fit.

For this study, the research team from the Umeå University in Sweden examined medical data on 743,498 Swedish men. The participants had received a physical examination when they were 18-years-old and a part of the national service from 1969 to 1984. The medical professionals had measured fitness levels using a bicycle test that gradually increased resistance. The participants were then followed for an average of 34 years until January 1, 2011. By then, some of the men had died or suffered from a heart attack.

The researchers discovered that men who were fit when they were younger had a reduced risk of heart attack later on in life. Men who were fit but became overweight or obese had a higher risk of heart attack in comparison to leaner men who were not as fit or active. The researchers calculated that for every 15 percent increase in activity, the risk of having a heart attack three decades later was reduced by 18 percent. The researchers also reported that regular physical activity during one's teenage years reduced heart attack risk by 35 percent.

"While being physically fit at the end of your teens can reduce the risk of heart attack, fitness alone does not appear to fully compensate for the risks with being overweight or obese. In other words, having a normal weight is more important than being in good physical shape, but it is even better to be both fit and have a normal weight," said Peter Nordström reported by Medical Xpress.

From the sample, the researchers estimated that 1,222 out of 100,000 had a heart attack. Among the men who suffered the attack, 43 percent were of normal or lean weight during their teenage years and had average to above fitness levels.

"As far as we know, this is the first real major study that explores the relationship between physical fitness in teenagers and the risk of heart attack later in life. As cardiovascular disease is such as a big public health problem and fitness training is both readily-available and affordable, these results and these types of study are important for the planning of preventative public health programs," says Peter Nordström.

The study was published in the European Heart Journal.

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