Fitness Now Improves Life Later

Chronic diseases later in life decrease with aerobic exercise during the middle years

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Higher fitness levels bring lots of benefits to individuals in the now. It helps keep away illnesses and makes the body strong. And fitness also has an effect way down the road by adding years to life, but its quality had been in question.

A new study reveals how cardiorespiratory fitness during your 30s, 40s, and 50s doesn't just increase one's lifespan but also improves those later years without disease.

"Aerobic activity now will improve quality of life later."

The study, led by Jarett Berry, MD assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, examined more than 250,000 medical records from 18,670 participants in the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study over a 40-year span.

The records included self-reported personal and family history, a standard medical examination from a physician, fasting laboratory studies, and a treadmill exercise test, which measures patients' maximum oxygen intake, and thus their level of fitness.

They discovered that when patients increase fitness levels by 20 percent during their middle years, they decreased their chances decades later of developing diseases such as congestive heart failure, Alzheimer's disease, and colon cancer by 20 percent.

The effects were the same in both men and women until the end of life. More-fit individuals lived their final five years of life with fewer chronic diseases.

"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," Dr. Berry said.

The authors note several limitations in this study. First, the results came from administrative data rather than clinical diagnoses, but "Medicare data have been shown to be a reliable source of information across multiple clinical outcomes."

In addition, the activities and medical records between participants' mid-years of life to after 65 weren't considered in the study. Only select chronic conditions were included, which may have influenced their results.

Although their study included patients with higher socioeconomic standing and education status, the risk factors are similar among the rest of the population.

dailyRx Contributing Expert Mark Bans, DC, added "I would state that in regards to physical activity, it's also important to note the type, duration, and recovery involved that will impact one's health.

For example, more recent studies are showing that short burst, interval training to be healthier and less taxing on the body than longer term cardio or endurance training. Recovery is also important. If you are taxing your body, then it's also important to make sure you are feeding your body the proper, healthy nutrition it needs and making sure you get plenty of rest."

Research was funded by The Cooper Institute. Dr. Berry receives funding foam the Dedman Family Scholar in Clinical Care endowment at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine Aug. 27.  

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 28, 2012
Last Updated:
August 29, 2012