The Time to Start Exercising is Now

What is the association between cardiorespiratory fitness and long-term mortality?

That is the question a recently published study set out to answer, and boy did they answer it.

“Being unfit on a treadmill or in an exercise stress test has a worse prognosis, as far as death, than being hypertensive, being diabetic, or being a current smoker,” Dr. Wael Jaber, an author of the study, told CNN. “We’ve never seen something as pronounced as this and as objective as this.”

The study looked at over 120,000 participants from a period spanning 1991 through 2014. Adults were grouped based on performance on treadmill tests into categories based on their fitness (low, below average, above average, high, and elite). The study found a clear correlation between lack of fitness and death, with those in the elite group showing an 80% reduction in mortality risk over those in the least fit group.

The researchers suggest that sedentary lifestyle is like a disease. “You should demand a prescription from your doctor for exercise,” Jaber said.

The other revelation from the study is that there is no limit to the benefit of aerobic exercise. While other researchers have speculated that ultra exercisers might be at higher risk of death, this study found no such connection.

“There is no level of exercise or fitness that exposes you to risk,” Jaber said. “We can see from the study that the ultra-fit still have lower mortality.”

As cardiovascular disease and diabetes are among the most expensive diseases in the United States, encouraging patients and communities to be active and exercise daily might not only lead to reduced mortality, but could reduce costs of medical care as well.

“There actually is no ceiling for the benefit of exercise,” Jaber said. “”There’s no age limit that doesn’t benefit from being physically fit.”

Overall, the study says, increases in cardio-respiratory fitness were associated with a reduction in all-cause mortality at any level, without evidence of a plateau effect or U-shaped association There appears to be no upper limit of aerobic fitness above which a survival benefit is no longer observed.

High levels of aerobic fitness may be particularly important in older patients, where elite fitness levels likely reflect long-term activity and exercise habits, which lead to reductions in frailty and maintenance of physical independence.

But even if you’re older and don’t consider yourself an “elite” athlete, it’s not too late to start improving your fitness, with multiple recent studies stressing the benefits of both cardio and strength training exercises no matter a person’s age.

If you’re not exercising now, it’s time to start.