(HealthDay News) — High midlife fitness levels are significantly associated with a lower risk of developing chronic conditions later in life, according to a study published online Aug. 27 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

To examine the association between midlife fitness and chronic disease outcomes later in life, Benjamin L. Willis, M.D., M.P.H., from the Cooper Institute in Dallas, and colleagues analyzed data from 18,670 healthy participants (21.1 percent 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 versus 28.2 per 100 person-years) and women (11.4 versus 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 percent confidence interval (CI), 0.94 to 0.96] per MET) and women (HR, 0.94 [95 percent CI, 0.91 to 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 percent CI, 0.88 to 0.92] per MET).

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“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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