With all the contributing factors to heart failure, an active effort to take preventative steps against cardiovascular risk is ideal. Ironically, a great deal of attention given to heart attack prevention and treatment has led to more people suffering one, which has in turn increased the number of heart failure cases later in life. But there may be one preventative measure that merits some appraisal.

A study funded by the American Heart Association (AHA) claims that middle-aged men and women who adopted a sufficient fitness routine were able to substantially reduce their risk of heart failure. According to the AHA, over 5.1 million people live with heart failure in the United States, a number that is projected to swell by about 25 percent around 2030.

Heart failure occurs when the organ's muscle is unable to pump enough blood through the system that supplies the rest of the body with sufficient oxygen levels. The heart tries to compensate for the condition by enlarging itself, developing more muscle mass and pumping faster, which only speeds up the process.

"Improving fitness is a good heart failure prevention strategy - along with controlling blood pressure and improving diet and lifestyle - that could be employed in mid-life to decrease the risk of heart failure in later years," said lead author Dr. Ambarish Pandey.

Dr. Pandey and his colleagues oversaw two fitness tests that were spaced eight years apart with 18 years of follow-up testing. They compared their data with Medicare claims for heart failure.

Researchers analyzed the fitness capabilities of 9,050 men and women over the age of 40 using metabolic equivalents (METs). These units of measurements tested how well each of the study's participants did during a session on the treadmill. For every MET improvement each participant made, heart failure risk was reduced by 20 percent.

"People who weren't fit at the start of the study were at higher risk for heart failure after age 65, however, those who improved their fitness reduced their heart failure risk, compared to those who continued to have a low fitness level eight years later," added Pandey.

The AHA's recommendations for an adequate fitness regimen includes at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as walking or jogging for a total of five days a week or 25 minutes of rigorous aerobic activity like running for a total of three days a week. Moderate to rigorous muscle-strength training for at least two days a week also meets the association's recommendations.

When starting a new fitness routine, beginning slowly and eventually building up to the desired level of physical output is the most effective method. Walking to work, taking the stairs, and labor-intensive household chores are also good shortcuts if you find your day too demanding to work in a fitness plan. Fitness experts urge you not to forget the positive influence of stretching to improve flexibility on your overall condition.

The findings of the study were presented at the American Heart Association's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2013.

Source: Pandey A. Getting fit in middle age can reduce heart failure risk. Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2013. 2013.