Longevity Belongs to the Fittest

In a recent groundbreaking study, researches have found that individuals who have the highest cardio respiratory fitness levels tend to live the longest.  Moreover, they found that the increase in death rates associated with lower cardiovascular fitness was comparable to or worse than rates for heart disease, smoking, diabetes, and hypertension.  The study also revealed that there was an added benefit for elite over high performers for those who are 70+ years old, and in patients with hypertension.  

This was a retrospective study that included 122,000 people between 1991-2014.  They were divided into groups according to their sex and age-adjusted cardiovascular fitness levels, which were measured by a standardized treadmill stress test.  The performance groups were essentially divided into quartiles- high, above average, below average, low, plus the top 2% or so as elite. Over 8+ years of follow-up, death from any cause occurred in 13,637 people. Assessment of the data demonstrated that a significant decrease in death was incrementally associated with higher fitness levels. In other words, the fittest survived the longest.  This may seem obvious, but further analysis in people with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia revealed that death was inversely proportional to cardiovascular fitness levels in all of these groups, and lowest in elite performers. Some less reliable and smaller studies had cautioned about an upper limit for exercise before having adverse effects.  But this study clearly demonstrates no upper limit to reap the benefits of increased cardiovascular fitness.

In summary, not exercising, or having low cardiovascular fitness is comparable to or worse than heart disease, diabetes, or smoking in terms of early death. Specifically, elite performers had an 80% decrease in risk of death when compared with the lowest performers.  The decrease in mortality rate was dose-dependent- as cardiovascular fitness increased, mortality rate decreased, with no observable upper limit. This study is important because it illustrates the importance of aerobic fitness as a strong and modifiable factor for overall longevity.  The best Rx for a long life: get up and move… a lot!

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