Background The association between cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity and coronary artery calcium (CAC) is unclear, and whether higher levels of fitness attenuate CAC prevalence in subjects with metabolic syndrome is not fully elucidated. The present study aims to: a) investigate the independent association of fitness on the prevalence of CAC, after adjustment for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and sedentary time, and b) study the possible attenuation of increased CAC by higher fitness, in participants with metabolic syndrome. Design Cross-sectional. Methods In total 678 participants (52% women), 50-65 years old, from the SCAPIS pilot study were included. Fitness (VO2max) was estimated by submaximal cycle ergometer test and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and sedentary time were assessed using hip-worn accelerometers. CAC score (CACS) was quantified using the Agatston score. Results The odds of having a significant CACS (≥100) was half in participants with moderate/high fitness compared with their low fitness counterparts. Further consideration of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, sedentary time and number of components of the metabolic syndrome did only slightly alter the effect size. Those with metabolic syndrome had 47% higher odds for significant CAC compared with those without metabolic syndrome. However, moderate/high fitness seems to partially attenuate this risk, as further joint analysis indicated an increased odds for having significant CAC only in the unfit metabolic syndrome participants. Conclusions Being fit is associated with a reduced risk of having significant CAC in individuals with metabolic syndrome. While still very much underutilized, fitness should be taken into consideration in everyday clinical risk prediction in addition to the traditional risk factors of the metabolic syndrome.
Keywords: Cardiorespiratory fitness; SCAPIS; coronary artery calcium; metabolic syndrome; moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity; sedentary.