Midlife Fitness Relates to Old Age Health, Research Shows

Paul Groberts's picture

While it’s no longer news for anyone remotely interested in a healthy lifestyle, dieting, or fitness that an active life will keep you relatively illness-free in your olden years, recent research has gone on to confirm this long-held assumption.

A recent study, published by the Archives of Internal Medicine also answers a question that many have asked, in light of other recent scientific investigation: if you’re fit when young, will you really benefit from lower risks of illness past the age of 65, or does fitness in youth simply delay the onset of chronic health problems?

It appears that the team of scientists at the Medical Center with the University of Southwestern Texas, led by Dr. Jarrett Berry, has managed to answer this pressing question. By staying active and fit in your middle age (i.e. at and around the age of 50), you statistically stand better chances of contracting such difficult diseases as coronary disease, heart failure, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, kidney issues, and several types of cancer, among which those of the lung and colon.

Being Fit in Midlife Reduces Disease Risk

The study was initiated over half a century ago, when Berry’s team asked over 18,000 men and women around the age of 50 to take a test on a regular treadmill. They were tested for fitness according to precise criteria, including heart rate and health of their respiratory fitness. The respondents were then classified into five categories, ranging from those least fit, to those who had provided excellent results. The treadmill test had the participants run a mile. Men who were able to run the expected distance in roughly 8 minutes were qualified as being the fittest, while the clocked time for women who would fall in the same category was of around 10 minutes. At the time of the initial testing, all subjects had been found clinically healthy.

Several years later, the team of researchers analyzed claims made to Medicare after the age of sixty-five by the same individuals, data included in the Cooper study, for a 26-year median. They found that 28% of the men which had been classified as the least fit had developed a chronic illness after 70. For women, the rate was 20% for the lowest fifth of the fitness scale. Those in the highest fifth of the chart had performed much better of the years: only 16% of men and 11% of women had made chronic disease claims to their health insurance provider.

Being Fit Does Not Increase LifeSpan

Does midlife fitness warrant a longer life, in this case? Sadly, the Southwestern Texas University team of researchers has found that it doesn’t. They analyzed the cases of the circa 2,400 individuals who had died in the span of time that the research took to be completed. They found that the morbidity rate among the least fit and the fittest is similar; however, those who had ranked the poorest in terms of fitness usually experienced longer and more severe bouts of disease, whereas the fittest usually expired after a short span of illness. It is true that those in the uppermost fifth of the midlife fitness chart were also healthier in their 65+ years.

It is also important to note that this study does not provide any results that are set in stone. In other words, being fit in your midlife years does not automatically imply that you’ll be healthier when you get old. This piece of research has, indeed, established a causal link between fitness levels and overall health levels, while also taking into account the participants’ medical history, as well as their history of years spent as smokers, alcohol consumption and family history. It did, however, overlook their dietary habits, which may also play an important role in insuring that you enjoy a hassle-fee olden age.

Guest post contributed by Paul for the Insanity Workout review.

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