Adult physical fitness may be affected by race

A person’s race may influence his or her level of physical fitness, according to the findings of a study of black and white adults who underwent treadmill stress tests.

The African American patients had a much lower exercise capacity than their white peers, study findings show. They were also more obese.

“These data suggest that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on reducing weight and increasing physical fitness, particularly for the prevention of cardiovascular and other diseases in the African-American population,” writes study author Dr. Carl J. Lavie, of the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, Louisiana, and his colleagues.

Levels of fitness are “one of the strongest predictors of cardiovascular disease,” Lavie told Reuters Health. Improving fitness levels, even among overweight or obese individuals, can help improve a person’s outlook, he said, adding that “exercise capacity is a stronger predictor of prognosis than cholesterol” among people with cardiovascular disease.

Lavie and his team investigated the effect of race on fitness levels in a study of 5,069 men and women - 4,428 white and 641 African American, 52 to 74 year olds - who were referred to a medical center for Exercise stress testing.

Altogether, white race was found to predict higher fitness levels, Lavie and his team report in the medical journal Chest.

The white men in the study were three years older, on average, than their African American counterparts, but performed better on the Exercise stress tests. The African American men were more obese and had higher body mass indexes - a measure of weight that takes height into consideration - than the white men.

Among women, physical fitness levels were similar between whites and blacks. Again, obesity was less common among white women than among African American women, who also tended to have higher body mass indexes, study findings indicate. White women were also older than the African American women in the study.

“Despite being older, Caucasian patients in our study had significantly higher exercise capacities and lower obesity levels than African Americans, suggesting that some races may be more susceptible to increases in weight and decreases in fitness levels,” Lavie said in a statement from the American College of Chest Physicians.

Obesity is “skyrocketing” across the country, Lavie told Reuters Health. While it is best to lower obesity levels - which may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions - simply increasing fitness levels in our overweight and obese society can “go a long way towards improving prognosis,” he said.

In a statement, Dr. Paul A. Kvale, President of the American College of Chest Physicians said that “although African American patients may be particularly at risk for obesity and lower exercise capacity, it is important for physicians to encourage all patients to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle in order to avoid serious health complications in the future.”

SOURCE: Chest, December 2004.

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Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.