Midlife fitness delays chronic disease
August 27th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Midlife fitness delays chronic disease

We all know that exercise and fitness are key components to healthy living. Now new research is adding further proof that it will increase your quality of life.

The study, published in this week’s Archive of Internal Medicine, finds that being fit in the middle of your life not only delays the onset of chronic diseases later in life, but also shortens the duration of disease.

“We’ve known for years that exercise is good for you, but what’s not been clear is to what extent the health benefits persist across a lifespan,” said study author Dr. Jarrett Berry, associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Berry and his co-authors surveyed 18,670 patients, from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, one of the largest patient databases in the world looking at fitness indicators. The Cooper Center began collecting patient information in 1970, and now has more than 100,000 patients enrolled in its database.

The study selected patients who were 65 years or older as of January 1, 1999, and measured their fitness level by having them walk on a treadmill. The patients were then organized by sex, age, and divided into five different fitness levels ranging from very low to very high.

For the next 25 years, study authors followed up on their fitness levels and recorded any chronic disease.

“It’s not just heart disease and just cancer – it’s all kinds of chronic diseases, “ said Berry.

Patients' Medicare records were assessed for the following conditions: Congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, and colon or lung cancer.

When looking at men, the incidences of chronic disease was reduced by 45% between the group with the highest fitness levels, and those with the lowest. For women, the difference between the two groups was 43%.

Not only were people with higher fitness levels less likely to have chronic diseases, but they were also able to delay the disease and minimize how long they had it.

During the course of the study, 2,406 patients died. Out of the 711 people in the fittest group, only 9.5% of them had four or more chronic diseases in the last 5 years of their life. That percentage almost doubled to 18.3% when looking at the least fit group.

In other words, Berry explained, “Individuals who had high fitness spent less of the last 5 years with chronic disease."

Dr. Diane Beld, who is not associated with the study, said, “This study seems to support, that through fitness people might delay morbidity – may not just live longer, but live longer with less chronic disease.”

Beld, who is the associate director for the Prevention and Population Sciences Program at National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, wrote a commentary on the study and warned that the patients from the CCLS may not be the most representative of the country, as 98% of them were white and well-educated.

“More data in other population groups, would be good,” said Beld. “That would help for better reflection of the general population.”

She also warned that fitness wasn’t just a matter of exercise but also genetics.

Despite these limitations, though, Beld emphasized that none of the considerations should take away from the importance of this study.

"This is just another piece of evidence that being physically fit, is good at preventing chronic disease," said Beld.

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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Elizabeth

    Wow, never woulda known...when was this posted?

    August 27, 2012 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. M F

    Exercise and laughter is the best medicine.

    August 27, 2012 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dieter

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      October 11, 2012 at 10:38 | Report abuse |
  3. Phil

    Very glad to see that "midlife" was 65 years old!

    August 28, 2012 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Fitness Health

    Yoga and exercise are best medicine for maintaining the fitness in midlife and it prevents them from chronic diseases in future.

     Fitness Health 

    August 29, 2012 at 02:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Claudia

    You also have to consider what you put into your body nutrition also makes a big difference in preventing or delaying chronic diseases.

    August 31, 2012 at 18:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jon

    "The study selected patients who were 65 years or older as of January 1, 1999... For the next 25 years, study authors followed up on their fitness levels and recorded any chronic disease." Huh? Does this math work??

    September 2, 2012 at 09:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jason

    It seems obvious to a lot of us that fitness is a key component to a healthy lifestyle, but empirical confirmation is always a good thing.

    Ideal Fitness System

    September 6, 2012 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jason

    It seems obvious to a lot of us that fitness is a key component to a healthy lifestyle, but empirical confirmation is always a good thing.


    September 6, 2012 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Atsushi

      And no, I did not buy your book, nor did I read it, after a friend who spent way too much on books about Lyme, wnaerd of writers who are still sick with it as wasteful. The tips you share, could be narrowed down to focus on rebuilding your immune system. Get some sun, eat healthy (pretend a grocery store did not exist, live off the land type diet) Try to walk a bit, and avoid all sugars including fruit. Then find something concrete to share, if you expect money, rather than guessing.

      October 13, 2012 at 23:30 | Report abuse |
  9. Beat

    I agree with the article. Worked for me! I am 51 and feel like 35. Started active 3 x week excersising at 42 and started to take 3 res-juventa per day. And I get my regular yearly clean bills of health from my Dr. on all any any variables and feel great.

    September 13, 2012 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Beat

      sorry, typo: that was 2 (two) res-juventa per day.

      September 13, 2012 at 16:35 | Report abuse |
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    October 13, 2012 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.