cycling-655565_640 Staying fit after the age of 40 could lower your stroke risk later in life. Pixabay, public domain

Although the midlife crisis is often regarded as a myth, evidence has shown that middle-aged women have the highest rates of depression in the United States, and that men were most likely to be depressed during that part of their lives as well. At the same time, this particular period in our life can play a major role in overall cardiovascular health in terms of what we eat, what we drink, and how much we exercise.

In a recent study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, researchers from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, examined stroke risk in middle-aged adults at different levels of physical fitness. Their results add to a mound of evidence showing that staying fit is the key to a healthy heart later in life.

"We all hear that exercise is good for you, but many people still don't do it. Our hope is that this objective data on preventing a fatal disease such as stroke will help motivate people to get moving and get fit," said Dr. Ambarish Pandey, lead researcher and cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in a statement.

Pandey and his colleagues gathered data using the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. Members of a group of 19,815 adult participants that was 79 percent male and 90 percent white had their exercise tolerance measured at some point between the ages of 45 and 50 via a standardized treadmill test. Based on the results, each participant was categorized as having either a low, middle, or high level of fitness.

Participants at the top level of fitness were 37 percent less likely to suffer a stroke by the time they reached the age of 65 compared to those at the bottom. The link between fitness levels and stroke risk remained constant even when the research team accounted for other risk factors for a stroke, including high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and irregular heart rate.

"In this study we see an association between fitness and reduced risk of the serious health event of stroke even in the presence of other chronic conditions," said Dr. Benjamin Willis, coauthor of the study and epidemiologist at The Cooper Institute.

According to the American Heart Association, we should participate in 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week for better cardiovascular health. And let’s face it, it’s hard to find even a half an hour in the hectic schedule that comes with entering midlife crisis territory. Luckily, research continues to show how we can improve our overall health with high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

In a recent meta-analysis, published in Obesity Reviews, researchers compared the effects of HIIT to moderately intense physical activity such as jogging for an hour straight and no physical activity. HIIT, which is equivalent to running 20-yard sprints for 15 minutes with short rests in between, led to reductions in insulin resistance, blood glucose levels, and weight loss of just over 2 pounds.