MONDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Staying physically fit in middle age makes it less likely that you'll develop chronic diseases ranging from heart disease to certain cancers in old age, new research finds.
"Not only do the people with higher fitness live a little bit longer, the onset of chronic disease occurs even later, so that the amount of time you spend in your life with chronic diseases is compressed into a smaller period of time," said senior study author Dr. Jarett Berry, an assistant professor of internal medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas.
For people who are unfit in middle age, the data suggest that even a modest increase in fitness could translate into fewer chronic conditions.
For the study, researchers examined information on nearly 19,000 men and women with a median age of 49 who were taking part in the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, which has tracked the health of mostly white, healthy, well-educated participants since 1970.
Researchers matched up data from the Cooper Study with Medicare claims information starting when participants were 65. Follow-up occurred for a median of 26 years.
Participants' fitness levels were divided into five quintiles, or fifths, based on how fast and how long they could run on a treadmill.
The most fit at midlife were less likely at age 70 and up to develop a host of chronic diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, colon or lung cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, type 2 diabetes and heart disease than the least fit.
Fitter patients were also somewhat more likely to live longer, and to spend more of those years free of chronic diseases or with fewer chronic diseases, the researchers said.
An analysis of about 2,400 people who died during the study found that fitter people had fewer chronic diseases
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