Can exercise predict how long you'll live?

Study: 'Estimated age' based on stress test better predictor of longevity

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Some say age is just a number -- and now, new research is showing this may be true.

A new study suggests an "estimated age" based on an exercise stress test may be a better predictor of how long a person will live compared to their actual age.

“Age is one of the most reliable and consistent risk factors for dying -- the older you are, the higher the risk,” said Dr. Serge Harb, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist and study author. “In this study, we showed that an estimated physiological age, based on your exercise performance, is an even better predictor on how long you will live.”

Harb and his colleagues studied medical records from 126,356 people who had been referred for an exercise treadmill stress test between 1991 and 2015.

Researchers studied how people performed during the stress test, including how long they exercised, their heart rate response to exercise, and how they recovered afterward. 

Based on these results, researchers were able to predict the person’s estimated age. The participants were then followed for about nine years.

Data shows that estimated age, based on the treadmill performance, was a better indicator of life expectancy than actual calendar age. 

For example, a 50-year-old who performed well during a stress test, and had an estimated age of only 45, could live longer than what is expected by his actual calendar age.

Harb said he hopes the study helps people understand that exercise can add years to their lives. 

“The key take home message for patients is to exercise more, improve exercise performance, and for health care providers to use this physiological age as a way to motivate their patients to improve their exercise performance,” he said.

Harb believes the estimated age calculated in this research may be an easier and more practical way to communicate the results of a stress test to help people better understand their risk. 

Complete results of the study can be found in European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.