Lack of physical activity has been found to rank second after smoking as a predictor of early death, according to new findings. In the study analyzing nearly 800 men beginning at midlife, the Swedish researchers found that an increase in physical fitness led to a 21 percent increase in longevity over the course of a 45-year follow-up.
Study author Per Ladenvall said, “Fitness in middle age is of importance for mortality risk for several decades. Persons with low fitness are associated with an increased mortality risk throughout life. Smoking was the risk factor that was [most strongly] associated with mortality. We were somewhat surprised that the effect of aerobic capacity was even more pronounced than that of high cholesterol and high blood pressure.”
Heart-related problems associated with narrowed heart arteries is the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health organization.
The researchers used exercise testing which is commonly used to diagnose ischemic heart disease – the condition caused by narrowed arteries – to determine the impact of physical fitness on early death rates. The researchers also looked at established risk factors for heart disease like smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
The exercise test was completed by 792 male participants, and 650 of the healthiest men also underwent VO2 max test measuring maximal oxygen intake. A high VO2 max score is associated with a good physical fitness.
The researchers then gathered information on all-cause mortality. Participants were divided into three groups based on their level of VO2 max.
A higher VO2 max was associated with a 21 percent lesser risk of all-cause mortality.
Other researchers have noted that long follow-up period provides greater validity for the study. Dr. William Zoghbi, chief of cardiology at Houston Methodist Hospital, added, “The surprising part of the finding is that [physical fitness] is prognostically important so many years down the line. A message we’ve heard before is that physical fitness is really a major determinant of longevity. This study supports it.”
Increasing your physical fitness levels is important at any age for promoting longevity and reducing your risk of early mortality.
The findings were published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.