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Circulation. 2003 Sep 30;108(13):1554-9. Epub 2003 Sep 15.

Exercise capacity and the risk of death in women: the St James Women Take Heart Project.

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  • 1Department of Preventive Medicine, Rush Heart Institute, Rush-Presbyterian-St Luke's Medical Center, 1725 West Harrison Ave, Suite 020, Chicago, Ill 60612, USA.



Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women and accounts for more than half of their deaths. Women have been underrepresented in most studies of cardiovascular disease. Reduced physical fitness has been shown to increase the risk of death in men. Exercise capacity measured by exercise stress test is an objective measure of physical fitness. The hypothesis that reduced exercise capacity is associated with an increased risk of death was investigated in a cohort of 5721 asymptomatic women who underwent baseline examinations in 1992.


Information collected at baseline included medical and family history, demographic characteristics, physical examination, and symptom-limited stress ECG, using the Bruce protocol. Exercise capacity was measured in metabolic equivalents (MET). Nonfasting blood was analyzed at baseline. A National Death Index search was performed to identify all-cause death and date of death up to the end of 2000. The mean age of participants at baseline was 52+/-11 years. Framingham Risk Score-adjusted hazards ratios (with 95% CI) of death associated with MET levels of <5, 5 to 8, and >8 were 3.1 (2.0 to 4.7), 1.9 (1.3 to 2.9), and 1.00, respectively. The Framingham Risk Score-adjusted mortality risk decreased by 17% for every 1-MET increase.


This is the largest cohort of asymptomatic women studied in this context over the longest period of follow-up. This study confirms that exercise capacity is an independent predictor of death in asymptomatic women, greater than what has been previously established among men. The implications for clinical practice and health care policy are far reaching.

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