Fitness In Your 20s May Affect Health Later in Life, Study Finds

People who were in good shape as young adults had significantly lower risk for heart disease and death later on.


Treadmill photo via Shutterstock

Here’s a wakeup call for 20-somethings relying on the fast metabolism of youth: A new study found that fitness levels in young adulthood have a serious impact on health later in life.

The multi-institution study, co-led by a researcher from Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), suggests that study subjects who were fit in their 20s had a dramatically lower risk of heart disease and premature death as they aged.

From 1985 to 1986, researchers had 4,872 participants between the ages of 18 and 30 complete a fitness stress test on a treadmill, examining how long subjects could last before reaching total exhaustion. About 2,500 completed the same test seven years later, and a final follow-up took place in 2011.

After analyzing health and fitness markers at each of the three stages, the researchers concluded that for every minute longer the person could last when they were in their 20s, they were at a 15 percent lower risk of death and a 12 percent lower risk of serious heart disease side effects, like stroke and heart attack, 25 years later.

One of the lead researchers, the University of Michigan’s Venk Murthy, told Commonhealth that the team was surprised at the severity of the result. “Two, three, four, five minute differences are not uncommon,” Murthy said. “That adds up. That’s 15 percent per minute—it’s pretty substantial.”

As if that alone wasn’t enough to shake off the shackles of Netflix, the study’s findings were not linked to weight loss—so even those still blessed with a 20-year-old’s capacity for 2 a.m. pizza binges should be hitting the gym.