Association of All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality With High Levels of Physical Activity and Concurrent Coronary Artery Calcification

JAMA Cardiol. 2019 Feb 1;4(2):174-181. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2018.4628.


Importance: Few data are available to guide clinical recommendations for individuals with high levels of physical activity in the presence of clinically significant coronary artery calcification (CAC).

Objective: To assess the association among high levels of physical activity, prevalent CAC, and subsequent mortality risk.

Design, setting, and participants: The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study is a prospective observational study of patients from the Cooper Clinic, a preventive medicine facility. The present study included participants seen from January 13, 1998, through December 30, 2013, with mortality follow-up through December 31, 2014. A total of 21 758 generally healthy men without prevalent cardiovascular disease (CVD) were included if they reported their physical activity level and underwent CAC scanning. Data were analyzed from September 26, 2017, through May 2, 2018.

Exposures: Self-reported physical activity was categorized into at least 3000 (n = 1561), 1500 to 2999 (n = 3750), and less than 1500 (n = 16 447) metabolic equivalent of task (MET)-minutes/week (min/wk). The CAC scores were categorized into at least 100 (n = 5314) and less than 100 (n = 16 444) Agatston units (AU).

Main outcomes and measures: All-cause and CVD mortality collected from the National Death Index Plus.

Results: Among the 21 758 male participants, baseline mean (SD) age was 51.7 (8.4) years. Men with at least 3000 MET-min/wk were more likely to have prevalent CAC of at least 100 AU (relative risk, 1.11; 95% CI, 1.03-1.20) compared with those accumulating less physical activity. In the group with physical activity of at least 3000 MET-min/wk and CAC of at least 100 AU, mean (SD) CAC level was 807 (1120) AU. After a mean (SD) follow-up of 10.4 (4.3) years, 759 all-cause and 180 CVD deaths occurred, including 40 all-cause and 10 CVD deaths among those with physical activity of at least 3000 MET-min/wk. Men with CAC of less than 100 AU and physical activity of at least 3000 MET-min/wk were about half as likely to die compared with men with less than 1500 MET-min/wk (hazard ratio [HR], 0.52; 95% CI, 0.29-0.91). In the group with CAC of at least 100 AU, men with at least 3000 MET-min/wk did not have a significant increase in all-cause mortality (HR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.52-1.15) when compared with men with physical activity of less than 1500 MET-min/wk. In the least active men, those with CAC of at least 100 AU were twice as likely to die of CVD compared with those with CAC of less than 100 AU (HR, 1.93; 95% CI, 1.34-2.78).

Conclusions and relevance: This study suggests there is evidence that high levels of physical activity (≥3000 MET-min/wk) are associated with prevalent CAC but are not associated with increased all-cause or CVD mortality after a decade of follow-up, even in the presence of clinically significant CAC levels.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / epidemiology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / mortality
  • Coronary Artery Disease / pathology
  • Coronary Vessels / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Vessels / pathology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods
  • Vascular Calcification / diagnostic imaging
  • Vascular Calcification / epidemiology
  • Vascular Calcification / pathology*