Limited data are available on the relation between physical fitness and mortality from cardiovascular disease. We examined this question in a study of 4276 men, 30 to 69 years of age, whom we followed for an average of 8.5 years. Examinations at base line included assessment of conventional coronary risk factors and treadmill exercise testing. The heart rate during submaximal exercise (stage 2 of the exercise test) and the duration of exercise were used as measures of physical fitness. Men with incomplete data (n = 308) or who were using cardiovascular drugs (n = 213) were excluded from the analysis. Men who had clinical evidence of cardiovascular disease at base line (n = 649) were analyzed separately. Forty-five deaths from cardiovascular causes occurred among the remaining 3106 men. A lower level of physical fitness was associated with a higher risk of death from cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, after adjustment for age and cardiovascular risk factors. The relative risk of death from cardiovascular causes was 2.7 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.4 to 5.1; P = 0.003) for healthy men with an increment of 35 beats per minute in the heart rate during stage 2, and 3.0 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.6 to 5.5; P = 0.0004) for those with a decrement of 4.4 minutes in the exercise time spent on the treadmill. The corresponding values for death from coronary heart disease were 3.2 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.5 to 6.7; P = 0.003) and 2.8 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.3 to 6.1; P = 0.007), respectively. We conclude that a lower level of physical fitness is associated with a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease in clinically healthy men, independent of conventional coronary risk factors.