Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Middle Age and Health Care Costs in Later Life

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Oct 27;66(17):1876-85. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2015.08.030.


Background: Low cardiovascular risk factor burdens in middle age are associated with lower health care costs in later life. However, there are few data regarding the effect of cardiorespiratory fitness on health care costs independent of these risk factors.

Objectives: This study sought to evaluate the association of health care costs in later life with cardiorespiratory fitness in midlife after adjustment for cardiovascular risk factors.

Methods: We studied 19,571 healthy individuals in the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study who underwent cardiorespiratory fitness assessment at a mean age of 49 years and received Medicare coverage from 1999 to 2009 at an average age of 71 years. Cardiorespiratory fitness was estimated by maximal metabolic equivalents (METs) calculated from treadmill time. The primary outcome was average annual health care costs obtained from Medicare standard analytical files.

Results: Over 126,388 person-years of follow-up, average annual health care costs were significantly lower forparticipants aged 65 years or older with high midlife fitness than with low midlife fitness in both men($7,569 vs. $12,811; p < 0.001) and women ($6,065 vs. $10,029; p < 0.001). [corrected].In a generalized linear model adjusted for cardiovascular risk factors, average annual health care costs in later life were incrementally lower per MET achieved in midlife in men (6.8% decrease in costs per MET achieved; 95% confidence interval: 5.7% to 7.8%; p < 0.001) and women (6.7% decrease in costs per MET achieved; 95% confidence interval: 4.1% to 9.3%; p < 0.001). These associations persisted when participants were separated into those who died during Medicare follow-up and those who survived.

Conclusions: Higher cardiorespiratory fitness in middle age is strongly associated with lower health care costs at an average of 22 years later in life, independent of cardiovascular risk factors. These findings may have important implications for health policies directed at improving physical fitness.

Keywords: Medicare; cardiovascular diseases; cost of illness; exercise test; metabolic equivalents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena*
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Fitness* / physiology
  • Prognosis
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena*
  • United States