Being physically during midlife not only helps extend lifespan, but it also increases the chances of aging healthily, free from chronic illness, investigators at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and The Cooper Institute have found.
The association between cardiorespiratory fitness and mortality is well described, say the study's authors. However, it previously had been unknown just how much fitness might affect the burden of chronic disease in the most senior years—a concept known as morbidity compression.
Researchers examined the patient data of 18,670 participants in the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, research that contains more than 250,000 medical records 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% in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, they decreased their chances of developing chronic diseases—congestive heart failure, Alzheimer disease, and colon cancer—decades later by 20%.
"What sets this study apart is that it focuses on the relationship between midlife fitness and quality of life in later years," said Benjamin Willis, MD, MPH, lead author of the study. "Fitter individuals aged well with fewer chronic illnesses to impact their quality of life."
This positive effect continued until the end of life, with more-fit individuals living their final 5 years of life with fewer chronic diseases. The effects were the same in both men and women.
The study was published online August 27 in Archives of Internal Medicine.