Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease in African Americans in Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2013 - Volume 45 - Issue 5 - p 901–907
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31827d87ec

Purpose: Although there is substantial evidence that physical activity reduces a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), few of these studies have included African Americans. The studies that have included African Americans offer inconclusive evidence on the association, and none studied heart failure separately. We used data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study cohort to examine, in African Americans, the association of physical activity with the incidence of CVD and its major components—stroke, heart failure, and CHD.

Methods: Participants age 45–64 yr (3707 African Americans and, for comparison, 10,018 Caucasians) had physical activity assessed via questionnaire in 1987 and were followed for incident CVD (n = 1039) through 2008.

Results: After adjustment for potential confounders, physical activity was inversely related to CVD, heart failure, and CHD incidence in both races (P values for trend <0.0001), and with stroke in African Americans. Hazard ratios (95% confidence intervals) for CVD for each higher physical activity category were similar by race: 1.0, 0.65 (0.56–0.75), and 0.59 (0.49–0.71) for African Americans and 1.0, 0.74 (0.66–0.83), and 0.67 (0.59–0.75) for Caucasians (P value for interaction = 0.38).

Conclusions: Our findings reinforce recommendations that regular physical activity is important for CVD risk reduction in African Americans as well as Caucasians and support the idea that some physical activity is better than none.

1Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN; and 2Geriatrics Division, Department of Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, MS

Address for correspondence: Elizabeth J. Bell, M.P.H., Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, 1300 South 2nd St., Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55454; E-mail:

Submitted for publication September 2012.

Accepted for publication November 2012.

©2013The American College of Sports Medicine