Have you ever wondered whether it’s healthier to go to the gym, for a run, ride your bike, or take a walk in the forest? The largest study to date of cardiorespiratory fitness in healthy people suggests it doesn’t matter much; the conclusion is simple – move more to live longer.

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Cycling to work will help you live longer

The research presented at Europrevent in April 2019 confirms what we all wanted to hear, improving fitness doesn’t require doing activities you don’t like. Simply moving more is linked to living longer, regardless of age, sex, and starting fitness level.

Simple morning commute will do wonders. © Profimedia, Alamy

“People think they have to start going to the gym and exercising hard to get fitter,” said study author Dr Elin Ekblom-Bak of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm. “But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. For most people, just being more active in daily life – taking the stairs, exiting the metro a station early, cycling to work – is enough to benefit health since levels are so low to start with. The more you do, the better.”

Your VO2 max matters

The study included over 316,000 Swedish adults aged 18–74. Cardiorespiratory fitness was measured using a submaximal cycling test and expressed as maximal oxygen uptake during exercise (VO2 max). The risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events fell by between 2.8% and 3.2%, with each millilitre increase in VO2 max.

“This is more motivational than just telling people they need to do better. People in the lower range of VO2 max will reduce their risk even more (9%) while those at the upper end of VO2 max will reduce their risk by 1%,” Dr Ekblom-Bak said.

The risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events fell by between 2.8% and 3.2%, with each millilitre increase in VO2 max.

Increasing fitness should be public health priority

Dr Ekblom-Bak says that increasing fitness should become a priority for public health guidelines, and clinicians should assess fitness during health screenings.

“Our previous research has shown that fitness levels in the general population have dropped by 10% in the last 25 years. In 2016–2017, almost every second man and woman had a low fitness level, so this is a huge problem. Fitness is needed for daily activities. Poor fitness is as detrimental as smoking, obesity and diabetes even in otherwise healthy adults, yet unlike these other risk factors it is not routinely measured.”

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