(HealthDay News) – High midlife fitness levels are significantly associated with a lower risk of developing chronic conditions later in life.

To examine the association between midlife fitness and chronic disease outcomes later in life, Benjamin L. Willis, MD, MPH, from the Cooper Institute in Dallas, and colleagues analyzed data from 18,670 healthy participants (21.1% women; median age, 49 years) in the Medicare claims-linked Cooper Center Longitudinal Study.

The researchers found that, over a median follow-up of 26 years, compared with the lowest quintile, the highest quintile of fitness correlated with a lower incidence of chronic conditions in men (15.6 vs. 28.2 per 100 person-years) and women (11.4 vs. 20.1 per 100 person-years). Higher fitness (in metabolic equivalents [METs]) remained associated with a lower risk of developing chronic conditions in men (hazard ratio [HR], 0.95 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.94–0.96] per MET) and women (HR, 0.94 [95% CI, 0.91–0.96] per MET), even after multivariable adjustment. Among 2,406 decedents, higher fitness was associated with lower risk of developing chronic conditions relative to survival (compression hazard ratio, 0.90 [95% CI, 0.88–0.92] per MET).

“In addition to reducing the burden of chronic conditions, we also observed that higher midlife fitness was associated more strongly with the delay in the onset of chronic conditions than with survival, suggesting that higher midlife fitness may promote the compression of morbidity in later life,” the authors write.

One author disclosed financial ties to Merck.

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