Being physically fit during your 30s, 40s, and 50s not only helps extend lifespan, but it also increases the chances of aging healthily, free from chronic illness.
The association between cardiorespiratory fitness (fitness) and mortality is well described. However, the association between midlife fitness and the development of nonfatal chronic conditions in older age has not been studied.
“We’ve determined that being fit is not just delaying the inevitable, but it is actually lowering the onset of chronic disease in the final years of life,” said Dr. Jarett Berry, assistant professor of internal medicine and senior author of the study.
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center and The Cooper Institute examined the patient data of 18,670 participants maintained over a 40-year span. These data were linked with the patients’ Medicare claims filed later in life from ages 70 to 85.
Analyses during the latest study showed that when patients increased fitness levels by 20 percent in their midlife years, they decreased their chances of developing chronic diseases – congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, and colon cancer – decades later by 20 percent.
“What sets this study apart is that it focuses on the relationship between midlife fitness and quality of life in later years. Fitter individuals aged well with fewer chronic illnesses to impact their quality of life,” said Dr. Benjamin Willis of The Cooper Institute, first author on the study.
This positive effect continued until the end of life, with more-fit individuals living their final five years of life with fewer chronic diseases. The effects were the same in both men and women.
These data suggest that aerobic activities such as walking, jogging, or running translates not only into more years of life but also into higher quality years, compressing the burden of chronic illness into a shorter amount of time at the end of life, Dr. Berry said.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), adults should get at least 2 ½ hours of moderate to intense aerobic activity each week to ensure major heart and overall health benefits.
The above article is based on the August 27, 2012 news release by The University ofTexas Southwestern.
The research has been published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine:
Willis BL, Gao A, Leonard D, Defina LF, Berry JD. Midlife Fitness and the Development of Chronic Conditions in Later Life. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Aug 27:1-8. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3400.