(HealthDay News) – Middle-aged fitness is significantly associated with lower health care charges in older age, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care & Outcomes Research 2012 Scientific Sessions, held from May 9–11 in Atlanta.

Justin M. Bachmann, MD, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and colleagues analyzed linked data for Medicare claims files from 20,489 participants from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. Participants were healthy individuals (mean age 51 years; 21% female) free from prior myocardial infarction, stroke, or cancer. The Balke protocol treadmill time was used to estimate fitness.

The researchers found that participants with high fitness (quintiles 4 and 5) measured at a mean age of 51 years were associated with significantly lower median annual health care charges at age ≥65 in both men ($3,277 vs. $5,134) and women ($2,755 vs. $4,565), compared to those with low fitness (quintile 1). The inverse associations between fitness and health care charges significantly persisted after multivariable adjustment in men and women. When fitness was analyzed as a continuous variable, similar findings were observed in both men and women.

“Higher fitness in healthy, middle-aged adults is strongly associated with lower health care charges decades later in older age, independent of other traditional risk factors,” the authors conclude.

One author disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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