Middle-Aged Fitness Matters

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Need some motivation to hit the gym this week? New research available online in the Archives of Internal Medicine reveals that being in good physical shape during your 30s, 40s and 50s helps extend your lifespan and increases your chances of aging healthily, without chronic illness.  

It’s not news that exercise is good for us. Past research has proven that higher fitness levels can lessen the risk of death, but until now, it was unknown exactly how much of an effect fitness had on chronic diseases in our later years.

Investigators at UT Southwestern Medical Center and The Cooper Institute examined patient data from over 18,500 patients that included over 250,000 medical records maintained over a 40-year period. The data was linked to the corresponding patients’ Medicare claims filed later in life when the patients were in their 70s and early 80s. The researchers discovered that when the patients increased fitness levels by 20 percent in their midlife years, they lessened their chances of developing chronic diseases such as congestive heart failure, Alzheimer's disease, and colon cancer—decades later by 20 percent.

These positive results continued to the end of the patient’s life, with the more-fit individuals living their final five years with fewer chronic diseases. The effects were the same for both men and women.

Aerobic activity like walking, jogging or running doesn’t only help add years to your life, but it also helps add higher quality years, with a reduced onset of chronic disease. "We've determined that being fit is not just delaying the inevitable, but it is actually lowering the onset of chronic disease in the final years of life," said Dr. Jarett Berry, assistant professor of internal medicine and senior author of the study

Are you getting enough exercise? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), adults should get at least two and a half hours of moderate to intense aerobic activity each week to ensure major heart and overall health benefits. What’s your favorite way to work out?