Maintaining or improving fitness and preventing fat gain are both associated with a lower likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in healthy adults, according to a study.

Duck-chul Lee, PhD, of the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and colleagues assessed 3,148 healthy adults over six years and three medical examinations to examine the correlation between fitness and fatness with CVD.

A maximal treadmill test was used to assess fitness, and fatness was defined by percent body fat and body mass index. Based on the changes in fitness and fatness between the first and second examinations, participants were categorized into loss, stable, or gain groups.

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Over the six-year follow-up, hypertension developed in 752 adults, metabolic syndrome developed in 426, and hypercholesterolemia developed in 597. After adjusting for possible confounders and fatness or fitness for each other, maintaining or improving fitness was associated with a reduced risk of developing each outcome, whereas increasing fatness was linked to an elevated risk of developing each outcome.

When fitness was maintained or improved, the increased risks associated with fat gain appeared to be offset, although not completely eliminated. Similarly, when fat was reduced, there was an attenuation of the increased risks associated with loss of fitness.

Study findings appear in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2012;59:665-672), where the authors wrote: “Both maintaining or improving fitness and preventing fat gain are important to reduce the risk of developing CVD risk factors in healthy adults.”