SCIENTISTS have highlighted the clinical need for cardiorespiratory fitness to be more frequently evaluated in patients, in a new study showing that high fitness levels are an effective protection against stress.
A team of sports scientists evaluated the fitness levels of ~200 participants in Sweden and measured their exposure to a range of cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure and cholesterol. The participants were also asked to report their subjective perception of the amount of stress they felt they currently experienced. The team found that individuals who reported higher stress levels had higher values in most cardiovascular risk factors. However, these risk factors were lower in people who were more physically fit, even when their stress levels were also high. This showed that the link between perceptions of stress and cardiovascular risk factors could be moderated by fitness. For example, significant differences were found among participants who had high perceived stress. Those with high cardiorespiratory fitness had lower systolic blood pressure and lower diastolic blood pressure than participants with low or moderate fitness.
The researchers concluded that the promotion of physical activity should be a priority because higher fitness levels seemed to offer resilience against health problems that could be caused by stress. However, they felt that the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness is underestimated in clinical practice and that it is not routinely assessed despite being a predictor of future morbidity and mortality. “We therefore suggest that clinicians should evaluate [cardiorespiratory fitness] more frequently, as part of individual risk assessment, and try to help patients to integrate regular [physical activity] into their daily life,” they wrote in the study.
Some limitations of the research were highlighted by the authors, including that the participants were generally in good health and were educated. It is, therefore, difficult to generalise the results to groups with lower socioeconomic and poorer health status. “We also acknowledge that family history or other biomarkers of [cardiovascular disease] such as C-reactive protein were not assessed,” the authors wrote. Finally, although stress might negatively impact pathophysiological markers, these markers could also contribute to stress.
Jack Redden, Reporter