Ever wondered if endurance exercise – which includes cycling – was actually good for your health? You could certainly be forgiven for questioning the health benefits when hard training leads to fatigue or illness.

A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology now suggests that fitness levels can actually predict heart problems, giving us all the more motivation to get out there on the bike.

The Layman lowdown

Researchers found that of more than 26,000 adults with no symptoms of heart disease, those who showed the greatest endurance on exercise tests had the lowest risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years.

Men with the highest fitness levels were 31 percent less likely than their least-fit counterparts to have a non-fatal heart attack or stroke, or to require an invasive procedure for heart artery blockages. The risk for men with moderate fitness levels fell between the highest and lowest fitness groups. A similar pattern also presented itself for women.

What it means

By now, most people may have heard the familiar advice to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day for the sake of their health. The new findings underscore how important fitness and therefore, regular exercise is in heart health. Many continuously experience jibes from generally less fit friends suggesting endurance exercise just isn?t good for you. Well, getting on the bike daily, if even for a recovery session, can keep your heart in tip-top shape.

Other benefits you can expect from a regular training pattern include not only a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, but also a lower likelihood of premature death from a range of causes.

The current findings are based on 20,728 men and 5,909 women who had no symptoms of heart disease when they entered the study, somewhere between 1971 and 2001. At that time, they underwent endurance tests to gauge their fitness levels, had physical exams and completed questionnaires on their lifestyle habits. They were then followed for an average of 10 years, during which time 1,512 men and 159 women had a non-fatal heart attack or stroke, or underwent an artery-clearing procedure.

The research team found that, even when several other factors were accounted for, such as age, smoking and weight, higher fitness levels seemed to protect against heart problems.

The findings, according to the researchers, argue for the value of more routine exercise testing of people with no symptoms of heart disease. Those test results, they say, could be used along with traditional risk factor assessment, like measuring blood pressure and cholesterol, to help predict a person’s odds of heart trouble down the road.

Exercise cardiac stress tests are typically carried out on a treadmill and are available in hospitals nationwide. If you are interested in having your heart health assessed see your doctor or private health care provider for information on tests in your area.