Medical professionals should review their patients’ aerobic fitness — just as they do other vital signs — to help people manage their health, urges Lenny Kaminsky, a nationally renowned health and wellness researcher for the College of Health at Ball State University.

Kaminsky, director of the university’s Fisher Institute of Health and Well-Being, is part of an expert panel that made a recommendation recently issued by the American Heart Association.

What is CRF and why does it matter?

The statement says 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,” said Kaminsky. “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.

Risk of Alzheimer's, depression could be higher

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 evidence clearly demonstrates that even a slight increase in CRF can reduce cardiovascular disease mortality,” Kaminsky said. “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.”