The treadmill exercise test with an electrocardiogram (ECG), commonly known as an exercise stress test, is a standard way to check for heart problems.
But a new study from Mayo Clinic shows that this test can tell us more than just the condition of our heart.
Surprisingly, the study finds that certain irregularities in the test could predict not only heart-related deaths but also deaths from other causes like cancer.
What the Study Examined
The Mayo Clinic research focused on more than 13,000 people who had no known heart issues or other severe illnesses.
These participants took exercise tests between 1993 and 2010 and were then followed for about 13 years on average.
The researchers looked at a variety of measurements taken during the test, such as how well people could use oxygen during exercise (known as “functional aerobic capacity”), how fast their heart rate returned to normal, and another measure that helps understand heart rate changes during the test.
What’s fascinating is that this test, originally designed to check heart health, ended up providing clues about other health risks too.
Thomas Allison, who led the study, says, “We found that cancer was the leading cause of death, making up 38% of the cases, whereas only 19% were heart-related.”
Paying Attention to the Full Picture
Given these findings, doctors should look at the complete range of information the exercise test offers, not just the heart-specific data.
For example, if the test shows you’re not very fit, or if your heart rate doesn’t get back to normal quickly after exercise, these could be warning signs, even if your heart itself seems to be okay based on the test.
Thomas Allison stresses the need to consider these atypical results seriously.
If people show such signs, they should be encouraged to get more exercise and possibly undergo more tests for other health issues, even when their ECG readings don’t show any significant risks tied to heart health.
Why This Matters
The exercise stress test is a simple and widely available procedure. If it can help catch risks beyond heart issues — such as cancer — it could become an even more valuable tool in healthcare.
It’s a good reminder that health is interconnected, and a test that we traditionally use for one purpose might give us valuable insights into other aspects of our well-being.
If you care about heart health, please see recent studies about supplements that could help prevent heart disease, stroke, and results showing that a year of committed exercise in middle age reversed worrisome heart failure.
The research findings can be found in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
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