Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Physical activity, fitness, abdominal obesity, and cardiovascular risk factors in Finnish men and women

The National FINRISK 2002 Study

Katja Borodulin

Academic Dissertation, February 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and National Public Health Institute, Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion.

Physical inactivity, low cardiorespiratory fitness, and abdominal obesity are direct and mediating risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). The results of recent studies suggest that individuals with higher levels of physical activity or cardiorespiratory fitness have lower CVD and all-cause mortality than those with lower activity or fitness levels regardless of their level of obesity. The interrelationships of physical activity, fitness, and abdominal obesity with cardiovascular risk factors have not been studied in detail.

The aim of this study was to investigate the associations of different types of leisure time physical activity and aerobic fitness with cardiovascular risk factors in a large population of Finnish adults. In addition, a novel aerobic fitness test was implemented and the distribution of aerobic fitness was explored in men and women across age groups. The interrelationships of physical activity, aerobic fitness and abdominal obesity were examined in relation to cardiovascular risk factors.

This study was part of the National FINRISK Study 2002, which monitors cardiovascular risk factors in a Finnish adult population. The sample comprised 13 437 men and women aged 25 to 74 years and was drawn from the Population Register as a stratified random sample according to 10-year age groups, gender and area. A separate physical activity study included 9179 subjects, of whom 5 980 participated (65%) in the study. At the study site, weight, height, waist and hip circumferences, and blood pressure were measured, a blood sample was drawn, and an aerobic fitness test was performed. The fitness test estimated maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and was based on a non-exercise method by using a heart rate monitor at rest. Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) was calculated by dividing waist circumference with hip circumference and was used as a measure of abdominal obesity. Participants filled in a questionnaire on health behavior, a history of diseases, and current health status, and a detailed 12-month leisure time physical activity recall. Based on the recall data, relative energy expenditure was calculated using metabolic equivalents, and physical activity was divided into conditioning, non-conditioning, and commuting physical activity. Participants aged 45 to 74 years were later invited to take part in a 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test with fasting insulin and glucose measurements. Based on the oral glucose tolerance test, undiagnosed impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes were defined.

The estimated aerobic fitness was lower among women and decreased with age. A higher estimated aerobic fitness and a lower WHR were independently associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and with higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and HDL to total cholesterol ratio. The associations of the estimated aerobic fitness with diastolic blood pressure, triglycerides, and HDL to total cholesterol ratio were stronger in men with a higher WHR. High levels of conditioning and non-conditioning physical activity were associated with lower high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. High levels of conditioning and overall physical activities were associated with lower insulin and glucose levels. The associations were stronger among women than men. A better self-rated physical fitness was associated with a higher estimated aerobic fitness, lower CRP levels, and lower insulin and glucose levels in men and women. In each WHR third, the risk of impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes was higher among physically inactive individuals who did not undertake at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five days per week.

These cross-sectional data show that higher levels of estimated aerobic fitness and regular leisure time physical activity are associated with a favorable cardiovascular risk factor profile and that these associations are present at all levels of abdominal obesity. Most of the associations followed a dose-response manner, suggesting that already low levels of physical activity or fitness are beneficial to health and that larger improvements in risk factor levels may be gained from higher activity and fitness levels. The present findings support the recommendation to engage regularly in leisure time physical activity, to pursue a high level of aerobic fitness, and to prevent abdominal obesity.

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Last updated 23.01.2006

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