Doctors should evaluate a patient’s aerobic fitness just as they do other vital signs to improve health management, urges an expert panel in a recommendation statement recently issued by the American Heart Association and published in Circulation.

According to the statement, per a media release from Ball State University (BSU), there is unequivocal evidence to confirm that cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF)—how effectively the heart, lungs, and blood vessels get oxygen to tissues and organs—should be measured in clinical practice, and it wouldn’t take special equipment.

“Reasonable estimations of CRF can be immediately available to patients and physicians using existing information in the electronic medical record,” says Lenny Kaminsky, director of BSU’s Fisher Institute of Health and Well-Being, in the release.

“Discussion of the patient’s CRF should become as routine as talking about blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight. This information provides clinicians with unique opportunities to help patients improve their health and encourage lifestyle-based strategies to prevent chronic diseases.”

Decades of research have shown that CRF, a reflection of overall cardiovascular health, is a stronger predictor of mortality than cigarette smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, and that low levels of CRF are associated with a high risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality rates from various cancers.

In addition to improved cardiovascular health, higher levels of CRF are associated with improved outcomes for certain forms of cancer, surgical risk, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and Type 2 diabetes, the release explains.

“The evidence clearly demonstrates that even a slight increase in CRF can reduce cardiovascular disease mortality,” Kaminsky states. “The good news is most people can achieve this by heeding the current recommendations to regularly perform even moderate physical activity. This simple lifestyle change, if adopted by those who are habitually sedentary, can increase CRF and produce substantial improvements in one’s health and well-being.”

[Source: Ball State University]