MONDAY, July 11, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A long-term study shows once again that "couch potatoes" are at high risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that encourages cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Men who scored highest on a treadmill test of physical fitness were 53 percent less likely to develop metabolic system than those who scored lowest, according to the report, published in the July 12 issue of Circulation. Even moderate fitness reduced men's risk by 26 percent, the researchers said.
In women, the risk of metabolic syndrome was 63 percent lower for those who were highly fit, and 20 percent lower for those who were moderately fit.
The report comes from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, in which researchers at the Cooper Institute, in Dallas, tracked more than 9,000 men and nearly 1,500 women for nearly six years.
During that period, 1,346 men and 56 women developed metabolic syndrome, whose components include obesity, high blood pressure, low blood levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, as well as elevated blood levels of fats called triglycerides and blood sugar. The presence of three or more of those risk factors is associated with an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke, experts say.
It's not difficult to reduce that risk, however, said study author Michael J. LaMonte, director of the Cooper Institute's epidemiology division.
"Although genetics contribute to individual fitness levels, previously published data indicate that most people can achieve moderate levels of cardiovascular fitness through 30 to 40 minutes of brisk walking about five days per week," LaMonte said in a prepared statement. "The highest level of fitness is likely to be achieved through vigorous jogging, running, biking or swimming for 20 to 30 minutes a day about three to five days a week."
The study has a couple of unique features, LaMonte added in an interview. "There hasn't been a lot of data about people developing metabolic syndrome," he said. "At most, there have been half a dozen. And those studies have relied on self-reporting to assess level of activity. There's a lot of room for error there."
"We put people on treadmills, which is a pretty strong way of clarifying a person's level of activity," he said. "The treadmill doesn't lie."
The study "has implications not only for future cardiovascular events, but also for developing metabolic problems," said Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of vascular disease prevention at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.
The results strengthen the growing belief that "diabetes and cardiovascular events are closely related," Plutzky said. "They are more and more tied together. The study also shows that activity and exercise can help prevent metabolic syndrome."
"Promoting higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness through greater physical activity may be the most prudent clinical and public health strategy for the primary prevention of metabolic syndrome," according to LaMonte.
For more on metabolic syndrome, head to the American Heart Association.