Reassessing The Link: Are The Benefits Of Adolescent Fitness To Future Cardiovascular Health Overestimated?

Reassessing The Link: Are The Benefits Of Adolescent Fitness To Future Cardiovascular Health Overestimated?
There is an urgent need to prioritize efforts in addressing the obesity epidemic.

Physical activity remains essential for public health, offering benefits beyond cardiovascular well-being.

Written by saumya pandey |Updated : November 21, 2023 1:01 PM IST

Adolescence, often considered a crucial period for establishing lifelong health habits, has long been associated with the prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in adulthood through fitness. A recent study explores the connection between adolescent health factors and the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in adulthood. It emphasizes the challenge of proving causal associations due to potential genetic and environmental influences. Researchers, led by Marcel Ballin from Uppsala University, utilized sibling analysis, examining data from the Swedish Military Conscription Register and other registries. Over a million 18-year-old males were followed for 60 years, with almost half being full brothers. This approach aimed to control for shared familial factors, including genetics and childhood environment. The conventional narrative has emphasized the positive impact of good physical fitness during adolescence on lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.

Impact Of Familial Factors On Fitness Association

While good physical fitness in adolescence showed a weaker association with lower CVD risk when adjusted for shared sibling factors, the link between high BMI and cardiovascular disease remained strong. The study’s last author notes that adolescence is crucial for establishing healthy habits, even though the fitness-CVD association weakened with familial adjustments.

Causal Associations And Preventive Measures

The study addresses the challenge of proving causal associations in previous observational studies. It investigates whether a lower BMI, lower blood pressure, improved physical fitness, or muscle strength in adolescence could prevent a significant proportion of cardiovascular diseases in adulthood.

BMI’s Dominance As A Risk Factor

The results highlight a robust association between high BMI in late adolescence and future cardiovascular disease, even after controlling for shared familial factors. The researchers emphasize that high BMI stands out as the strongest individual risk factor for CVD, underscoring the importance of addressing the obesity epidemic.

Importance Of Physical Activity

While physical fitness and muscle strength in adolescence showed a weaker link to cardiovascular health, the study underscores the ongoing importance of physical activity for public health, bringing additional benefits beyond cardiovascular health.

Study Limitations

The researchers acknowledge limitations, including the exclusive focus on men, lack of data on evolving risk factors, and missing details on certain contributors to cardiovascular disease, such as diet, alcohol consumption, smoking, blood lipids, and blood glucose.


The study concludes that, among the studied risk factors, high BMI emerges as the most significant individual risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Efforts to combat the obesity epidemic should remain a priority, while recognizing that physical activity, although less crucial, still contributes to overall public health.

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