However, the good news is that cardiovascular disease is treatable.
Washington: According to a recent study, even the fittest middle-aged athletes cannot outrun cardiovascular risk factors.
A University of British Columbia study highlights how important it is for middle-aged athletes to have doctors check their cardiovascular risk factors, especially if they have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of cardiovascular disease.
"We all know that exercise is good for us--it can help prevent a range of health problems and diseases, from cancer to depression," said Barbara Morrison, the study's lead author. "However, even if you are really active, our findings suggest that you still can't outrun your risk factors."
For the study, researchers followed 798 "masters athletes"--adults aged 35 and older who engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity at least three days a week. The participants included a range of athletes, from runners to cyclists, triathletes, rowers and hockey players.
Of the 798 athletes, 94 (11 per cent) were found to have significant cardiovascular disease. Ten participants were found to have severe coronary artery disease (a blockage in their artery of 70 per cent or greater) despite not having any symptoms.
While the findings may seem alarming, Morrison emphasised that it doesn't mean masters athletes should stop exercising.
She, instead, recommends people see their doctor for regular check-ups, including blood pressure and cholesterol monitoring, especially if they have a family history of heart attack or stroke.
"The good news is that cardiovascular disease is treatable," she said. "Medication has been proven to reduce mortality risk, and even more so in people who are active."
Practicing moderation when it comes to exercise is also important, she added. "There is no evidence that pushing exercise to the limit will make you live longer or your heart stronger, but when taken to the extreme, it may have the potential to do harm," said Morrison. "You should never push yourself so hard that you can't exercise the next day."
The study has been published in the journal BMJ Open.