Proof Exercise Really Does Produce a Healthier Life

Just to show you I’m not blowing smoke about the relationship between becoming or remaining fit as you get older and longevity, I’m going to share some objective information with you.

I recently read a research summary published by Johns Hopkins Medicine called “Treadmill Performance Predicts Mortality” released on March 2nd. The summary draws from a report that appeared on the same date in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings Journal, Volume 90, Issue 3 titled “Maximal Exercise Testing Variables and 10-Year Survival: Fitness Risk Score Derivation From the FIT Project.”

The following quote will give you some indication of the scope, both in terms of population and time span, of the project:

For the study, the team analyzed information on 58,020 people, ages 18 to 96, from Detroit, Michigan, who underwent standard exercise stress tests between 1991 and 2009 for evaluation of chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting or dizziness. The researchers then tracked how many of the participants within each fitness level died from any cause over the next decade. The results reveal that among people of the same age and gender, fitness level as measured by METs and peak heart rate reached during exercise were the greatest indicators of death risk. Fitness level was the single most powerful predictor of death and survival, even after researchers accounted for other important variables such as diabetes and family history of premature death — a finding that underscores the profound importance of heart and lung fitness, the investigators say.

So many other studies of a similar nature are limited in terms of the number of participants, their age range, or the time span involved, so I’m glad to see that this project threw a particularly wide net relative to collecting data. Usually, the larger and more diverse the population involved in a study, the more accurate and more applicable the results are to the general population. This is especially true in our case since many such studies are normed on young, healthy people rather than a more comprehensive age span.

Since this was a formal scientific/medical study, the results aren’t easy for the layperson to read, but I’ll quote them here anyway:

The median age of the 58,020 participants was 53 years (interquartile range, 45-62 years), and 28,201 (49%) were female. Over a median of 10 years (interquartile range, 8-14 years), 6456 patients (11%) died. After age and sex, peak metabolic equivalents of task and percentage of maximum predicted heart rate achieved were most highly predictive of survival (P<.001). Subsequent addition of baseline blood pressure and heart rate, change in vital signs, double product, and risk factor data did not further improve survival discrimination. The FIT Treadmill Score, calculated as [percentage of maximum predicted heart rate + 12(metabolic equivalents of task) – 4(age) + 43 if female], ranged from −200 to 200 across the cohort, was near normally distributed, and was found to be highly predictive of 10-year survival (Harrell C statistic, 0.811).

This project goes a long way to support the general consensus in the medical and exercise health industries that there is a relationship between a person’s level of fitness and their lifespan regardless of age. While this information can’t be directly applied to any of us as individuals (unless we were able to take the specific stress test used in the project), we can have confidence that our efforts to improve our overall fitness will have a positive result.

This isn’t just “tribal knowledge” or stuff that “everyone knows,” there are a lot of solid numbers to back it up. If you want to improve your longevity (and I’ve mentioned this before), pursuing a moderate and sensible exercise program is the way to go.

Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.

Ralph Marston

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