The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


The Payoff of Midlife Fitness

Written by
Michael Harper, MEd
Posted in
Move more

Tuesday, Sep 04, 2012

No I didn’t say midlife crisis. But speaking of crisis, there is new evidence to help avoid the crisis of dealing with chronic diseases such as congestive heart failure, ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and colon and lung cancers in the later years of life after age 65. A recent study published by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and The Cooper Institute found a connection between midlife fitness and health later-in-life.1

Those who were fitter in midlife were more likely to age without significant burden of chronic diseases later in life after age 65 in this study of over 18,000 individuals! Men and women whose fitness level at age 50, as measured on treadmill tests, put them in the top 20% of subjects had just over half the number of chronic conditions as did those in the lowest fitness category. Men with the highest fitness levels had 45% less incidences of chronic disease compared to those with the lowest fitness levels. Women had a difference of 43%.

Not quite to midlife yet?

Prepare yourself, or your kids, to be fit in midlife by getting fit now. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that the risk for inactivity as an adult was significantly lower for those who were physically active in adolescence.2 A 25 year survey study looked at fitness levels of kids age 12-18 and then again through a questionnaire when they were between ages 37-43. They found that males who participated in activity daily as kids were 87% less likely to participate in activity less than once per week as an adult. For females, they found 72% less likely.

But what to do?

Take action and work to increase your physical activity level. Options for physical activity are endless and can start with just a little bit of activity and increase from there. A few ideas to help you get started or add a few extra activities in your normal routine might include:

  • Taking a walk around the block, or maybe even at the mall while window shopping before the stores open
  • Using a printer further away from your desk while at work
  • Starting with a 10 minute circuit of cardio and strength using things around you home, such as:
    • 1 minute of walking in place
    • 30 seconds of push-ups while leaning against a wall
    • 1 minute of marching up and down the first step of the stairs
    • 30 seconds of abdominal crunches on the ground
    • 1 minute of stepping back and forth to the side
    • 30 seconds sitting down and standing up out of a chair
    • 1 minute of moving your feet and acting like you are boxing with your hands
    • 30 seconds of shoulder press by extending your arms overhead while holding cans of soup or milk jug in your hands
    • 1 minute of jumping jacks or simulated jumping jacks without jumping off the ground but just stepping
    • 30 seconds of back extensions by lying on your stomach and lifting your upper torso up and down off the ground while keeping your hips and lower body on the ground
    • 1 minute of salsa dancing by moving forward 3 steps and backwards 3 steps
    • 30 seconds of bicep curls with cans of soup or a milk jug in your hands by lifting your hands up and down towards your shoulder while keeping your elbows by your side
    • 1 minute of walking in place
Then over time, remember to increase your activity towards trying to meet the current physical activity recommendations. If you do the circuit listed above, try going through it more than once, add more time to each segment or add other exercises to it. To help you think of ways to progressing exercises, even bodyweight exercises, take a look back at the article Bodyweight Exercises: Exercise for Wherever You Are.  Of course, be sure to follow any doctor recommendations for your level of clearance for exercise.

Remember what you do today has an impact on tomorrow and it is never too late or too early to start!! Benefits are immediate as well as long lasting no matter what your age!

1Willis BL, Gao A, Leonard D, DeFina LF, Berry JD. Midlife Fitness and the Development of Chronic Conditions in Later Life. Arch Intern Med. Published online August 27, 2012. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3400.

2Huotari, P., Nupponen, H., Mikkelsson, L., Laakso, L., & Kujala, U. (2011). Adolescent physical fitness and activity as predictors of adulthood activity. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(11), 1135-1141.