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Want to be Healthy in Old Age? GET FIT NOW

Being physically fit in your 30s, 40s, and 50s not only helps extend life span, it also increases the chances of aging healthily, free from chronic disease, investigators at UT Southwestern and The Cooper Institute have found.

For decades, research has shown that higher cardio respiratory fitness levels lessen the risk of death, but until now it had been unknown just how much fitness might affect the burden of chronic disease in the most senior years.

“We’ve determined that being fit is not just delaying the inevitable, but is actually lowering the onset of chronic disease in the final years of life,” says Jarett Berry, M.D., Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and senior author of the study.

Researchers examined patient data from nearly 19,000 participants. The data were linked with patients’ Medicare claims filed later in life from ages 70 to 85. When patients increased their fitness levels by 20 percent in their midlife years, they decreased their chances of developing chronic diseases — such as congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, and colon cancer — decades later by 20 percent.

The effects were the same in both men and women.

How much is enough?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, adults should get at least two and a half hours of moderate to intense aerobic activity each week to ensure major heart and overall health benefits.