The Cooper Institute

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


New Study Shows Higher Midlife Fitness is Key to Healthier Aging

People who are fit at midlife have fewer chronic diseases in later life

Contact: Andrea Kirsten-Coleman

DALLAS (Aug. 27, 2012) — A new study from The Cooper Institute in collaboration with UT Southwestern Medical Center, shows that individuals who are fit at midlife have fewer chronic diseases in their Medicare years and spend less time with these diseases. The study, published this month in The Archives of Internal Medicine, is one of the first to look at the relationship between fitness and the burden of chronic illnesses in aging.

Benjamin Willis, MD, MPH, was the first author on the study which also included co-authors Laura DeFina, MD, and David Leonard, PhD, of The Cooper Institute and Jarret Berry, MD, and Ang Gao, MS, of UT Southwestern Medical Center.  

The group followed over 18,000 generally healthy men and women who completed a baseline preventive medical examination at Cooper Clinic in Dallas when they were, on average, 49 years of age. Cardiorespiratory fitness was measured using a maximal treadmill exercise test. The exam also included an assessment of other health risk factors such as body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and cholesterol.  Their health status was evaluated using Medicare data on average 26 years after examination.

Results showed that higher midlife fitness was strongly associated with fewer chronic conditions in later life. “What sets this study apart is that it focuses on the relationship between midlife fitness and quality of life in later years.  By that I mean, fitter individuals aged well with fewer chronic illnesses to impact their quality of life,” says Willis. Those people in the study who were fitter had a lower burden of chronic conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease and certain cancers.

Another unique finding of the study was that even among those participants who had died during the study, the fittest spent less time in their final years burdened with chronic health conditions.  “We’ve determined that being fit is not just delaying the inevitable, but it is actually lowering the onset of chronic disease in the final years of life," said Berry, senior author of the study.

“This research illustrates perfectly what we’ve been practicing for over 40 years. A healthy and fit lifestyle allows us to square off the curve,” says Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, Founder and Chairman of Cooper Aerobics. “That means we want people to spend most of their lives in good health with an active lifestyle and less time with a chronic disease.”

About The Cooper Institute

Established in 1970 by Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, The Cooper Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated worldwide to preventive medicine research and education, housing one of the world’s largest databases on exercise and health. Each year The Cooper Institute develops engaged learners in fitness and health with its courses and nationally accredited Personal Trainer Certification exam. The Cooper Institute offers web-based tools for schools to track and report on youth fitness and nutrition: FitnessGram® and NutriGram®. For more information, visit

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern Medical Center, one of the premier medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has many distinguished members, including five who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,600, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients and oversee nearly 2 million outpatient visits a year. For more information, visit