As survival indicators, fitness levels are more accurate than traditional risk factors.
Most adults over age 70 have multiple risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes, but experts note that knowing the total number of risk factors is not helpful for predicting future health. By contrast, knowing how fit a person is can be predictive, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session in March 2019.
Researchers analyzed records of more than 6,500 people ages 70 and older who had taken an exercise stress test and were then tracked for an average of just under 10 years. Data analysis revealed that higher fitness levels significantly increased longevity. The most fit individuals were more than twice as likely to be alive 10 years later when compared with the least fit. On the other hand, a subject’s total number of cardiovascular risk factors was not associated with risk of death; patients with zero risk factors had a similar likelihood of dying as those with three or more risk factors.
“We found fitness is an extremely strong risk predictor of survival in the older age group—that is, regardless of whether you are otherwise healthy or have cardiovascular risk factors, being more fit means you’re more likely to live longer than someone who is less fit,” said lead study author Seamus P. Whelton, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “This finding emphasizes the importance of being fit, even when you’re older.”