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Assess Your Risk for Heart Disease

Runner, Assess Your Risk

Attention, middle-agers: How fast can you run a mile? The answer could predict your risk for heart disease later in life.

In two separate studies, UT Southwestern researchers have found that physical fitness levels, or how fast a middle-age person can run a mile, can help predict the risk of dying of heart attack or stroke decades later for men and could be an early indicator of cardiovascular disease for women.

“Heart disease tends to cluster at older ages,” says Jarett Berry, MD, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern. “If you want to prevent it, our research suggests the prescription for prevention needs to occur when people are in their 40s and 50s.”

Sample findings:

  • A 55-year-old man with very low fitness levels (needs 15 minutes to run a mile) has a 30 percent lifetime risk of developing heart disease.
  • A 55-year-old man with high fitness levels (can run a mile in eight minutes) has a lifetime risk of less than 10 percent. 

Middle-age women can also benefit from midlife exercise, even though they are at low risk for heart disease—at least initially.

“Nearly all women under 50 years of age are at low risk for heart disease,” Dr. Berry says. “But as they get older, their risk increases dramatically. We found that low fitness levels were particularly helpful in identifying women at risk for heart disease over the long term.”