We all know that exercise keeps us fit but a new study goes one step further, finding that a lifestyle devoid of exercise is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease.
Dr. Wael Jaber, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and senior author of the study, called the results “extremely surprising.”
“Being unfit has a worse prognosis, as far as death, than being hypertensive, being diabetic or being a current smoker,” Jaber told CNN. “We’ve never seen something as pronounced as this and as objective as think.”
Jaber said researchers must now convey the risks to the general population that “being unfit should be considered as strong of a risk factor as hypertension, diabetes and smoking — if not stronger than all of them.”
“It should be treated almost as a disease that has a prescription, which is called exercise,” he said.
In a study published in the journal JAMA Network Open, Researchers retrospectively studied 122,007 patients who underwent exercise treadmill testing at Cleveland Clinic between January 1, 1991 and December 31, 2014 to measure all-cause mortality relating to the benefits of exercise and fitness. Those with the lowest exercise rate accounted for 12% of the participants.
The benefits of exercise were seen across all ages and in both men and women, “probably a little more pronounced in females,” Jaber said. “Whether you’re in your 40s or your 80s, you will benefit in the same way.”
Jaber said the other big revelation from the research is that fitness leads to longer-term life, with no limit to the benefit of aerobic exercise. Researchers have always been concerned that “ultra” exercisers might be at a higher risk of death, but the study found that not to be the case.
“There is no level of exercise or fitness that exposes you to risk,” he said. “We can see from the study that the ultra-fit still have lower mortality.”
The risks, he said, became more shocking when comparing those who don’t exercise much. “We all know that a sedentary lifestyle or being unfit has some risk. But I’m surprised they overwhelm even the risk factors as strong as smoking, diabetes or even end-stage disease.”
What made the study so unique, beyond the sheer number of people studied, he said was that researchers weren’t relying on patients self-reporting their exercise. “This is not the patients telling us what they do,” Jaber said. “This is us testing them and figuring out objectively the real measure of what they do.”
Comparing somebody who doesn’t exercise much to somebody who exercises regularly, he said, still showed a risk 390% higher. “There actually is no ceiling for the benefit of exercise,” he said. “”There’s no age limit that doesn’t benefit from being physically fit.”
This post first appeared on CNN