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Mid-life fitness could delay chronic disease

28th August 2012

Middle-aged people who stay physically fit can significantly lower their chances of developing a chronic disease like heart failure, stroke or diabetes, new research has shown.

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An observational study carried out by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas found that mid-life fitness can lower the burden of chronic disease in later life by a significant margin.

Previous studies have clearly established the link between high blood pressure and obesity on healthy ageing, but this is the first time researchers have specifically addressed the role that fitness and physical activity levels play in ageing.

Writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine's online edition, the researchers reported that the men they tested who were the fittest at the age of 50 also had a much lower risk of developing congestive heart failure, stroke and diabetes.

According to lead author Jarett Berry, the team found the results were similar for the fittest women in the study.

Berry's team looked at medical data gathered from 18,670 participants who were about 50 years old when they enrolled in the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, which began in 1970.

The group studied reached the age of 65 between 1999 and 2009, enrolling in the senior healthcare insurance programme Medicare.

They found that the fittest 50-year-olds, whose fitness had been measured on enrolling in the study using a treadmill, had far lower rates of chronic disease of any kind, including ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, colon or lung cancer and Alzheimer's.

According to Berry, mid-life fitness is associated with the delay in the development of chronic conditions to a greater extent than the extension of the lifespan. This means that while fitness is no indicator of longevity, it strongly predicts quality of life in a person's later years.

The findings should help people to improve their quality of life as they age, and to lower healthcare costs.

Berry and his team wrote that their findings had "important implications" for public health and prevention practice, suggesting that even a small increase in fitness during middle age could markedly reduce older age chronic conditions.

Boosting one's level of fitness just slightly at the age of 50 could mean a lower risk of chronic diseases at age 65 and over.

In an accompanying commentary to the study, Diane Bild of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said that genetics also played an important role in how someone ages.

She said that forthcoming evidence from a randomised study of physical activity versus health education, the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) trial, should add vital further evidence to the current study.


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