The Cooper Institute

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


Fitness Still Matters to Reduce Heart Disease and Cancer Deaths, Despite Advances in Modern Medicine and Lifestyle Changes

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Fitness Still Matters to Reduce Heart Disease and Cancer Deaths, Despite Advances in Modern Medicine and Lifestyle Changes

DALLAS, TX (March 30, 2020) – Over the last 50 years, advances in modern medicine have helped us live longer by identifying and treating risk factors for heart disease, stroke and cancer. The groundbreaking 1989 study from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study (CCLS) showed a strong and inverse relationship between fitness and mortality. But with these significant changes and improvements in cardiac and cancer treatment, does fitness still matter?

A new study from The Cooper Institute, along with researchers from Harvard and Stanford University, takes a look to see if these changes in disease prevention, detection and treatment have any effect on the relationship between fitness and mortality.

Death rates from heart disease and stroke have dropped by 67% and 77%, respectively, over the past 50 years, mostly due to statin medication to lower cholesterol, new high blood pressure medication, decreased tobacco use, and more advanced cardiac catherization and surgical techniques. While the original CCLS study prompted the American Heart Association (AHA) to add physical inactivity as a modifiable risk factor for heart disease in 1992, the new study adds another 25 years of patient information to examine whether modern medicine negates the importance of fitness.

 “Despite significant advances in medicine and a reduction in mortality rates over the past 30 years, fitness remains as important now as it did in the first study,” said Steve Farrell, PhD, Senior Investigator at The Cooper Institute and lead author on the paper. "Modern medicine alone cannot protect you from unhealthy lifestyle choices. Physical fitness still matters."

This study looked at nearly 48,000 men over a 50-year span who all completed baseline examinations and a maximal treadmill exercise test at the Cooper Clinic. The men were divided into two chronological groups based on changes in cardiovascular interventions that became more common in the early 1990s, including the use of statins, thrombolytic drugs and stents. 

Men from both groups were categorized as low fit, moderate fit or high fit based on their treadmill test results and age group. When compared against those with low fitness, men in both groups demonstrated that high and moderate fitness significantly decreases all-cause mortality risk:

“The findings emphasize how important it is for us to be physically fit – even today, when medical diagnosis and treatment have advanced so much compared with a few decades ago,” said senior author Dr. I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist in the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “To improve our cardiorespiratory fitness, we should be physically active by following current guidelines.”

Men and women are urged to meet the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines, which consist of accumulating a minimum of 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or a minimum of 75 minutes each week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, along with a minimum of 2 days each week of strength training.

The results of the 50-year combined study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, confirm and reinforce the importance of fitness even with today’s modern and aggressive screening and treatments for chronic disease. In fact, the AHA Scientific Statement recommends the inclusion of a baseline measured fitness assessment as a clinical vital sign.

The Cooper Institute was established as a nonprofit in 1970 by Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, to promoting life-long health and wellness worldwide through research, education and advocacy. By improving public health, The Cooper Institute helps people lead better, longer lives now and Well. Into the Future. To learn more, visit

Owned and operated by The Cooper Institute, the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study (CCLS) is the largest and longest-running study in the world with measured fitness. Developed in 1970, it contains over 300,000 patient records from the Cooper Clinic and is one of the world's most extensive studies relating fitness to overall wellbeing and the improvement of public health. To learn more, visit