Many people who turn 40 tend to think of this age as a kind of landmark as stages in one's life go and as milestones in one's health go. A visit to the cardiologist to make sure that everything's in working order happens to be on many people's list of things to get done around this age. It tends to come as a surprise to many who do show up at their cardiologist's wondering about heart disease these days that one of the first questions they get asked is what kind of time they think they can clock running a mile.
The mile-time question happens to come as a kind of surprise to many. It actually happens to be quite new. It comes from recent research done by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. Researchers here have spent years studying tens of thousands of people, analyzing how fit they are. How fit you are at 40 can predict how free of heart disease you're likely to be as you grow old, is what they've found out. Your fitness level can be as reliable a predictor of your chances of keeping a healthy heart long into old age - just as blood pressure and cholesterol measurements can, they've found. If you want to look further into the research, you should probably pick up the Journal of the American College of Cardiology from April 2011 (now there's something to curl up in bed with).
So how exactly do they arrive at this kind of metric? Why do they say that a level of fitness that should propel you through a mile really quickly should be any indicator of how healthy you will be when you're 70? The study, with all those thousands of people involved, carefully monitored treadmill tests that gauged cardiovascular resilience and how tired one's muscles get when running. The researchers managed to put it down to a formula how one's level of heart stress and muscle fatigue can determine how healthy or unhealthy one's heart is. One way of putting a simple number on one's level of heart stress and muscle fatigue would be to just measure one's running time. In this way, they managed to take the amount of time you take running a mile and use it to predict your level of heart health.
In other words, if you exercise well when you're 40 and you're able to find that kind of reserve of strength, it's going to really have an effect on how free of heart disease you get to be when you're 80. Your doctor may not be able to come up with a specific diagnosis yet through your running times. More study needs to be done to get it down to that level of accuracy. But doctors today certainly have a pretty good idea, thanks to the study, what kind of heart health can look forward to if you would just give them the time you clock on the track.