It is essential to keep in mind that people’s fitness level is important, not the activity they utilize to get there. Fitness grants us a decreased risk of disease, not a specific activity—and not necessarily the total amount of time exercising. As little as 6,000 steps a day can make a difference.
So, fitness appears to influence longevity and living better, but how that aerobic fitness is achieved and maintained matters too! It is possible to achieve a desired level of fitness without crushing yourself every day. Think of it as moving more and moving more often.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the authors of one study found that the fittest among us had the lowest BMI (body mass index). But they found that the fittest had higher cholesterol and LDL readings, too. Hmm.
Your cholesterol number in isolation is not the best predictor of cardiac disease or heart attacks. People with normal cholesterol levels are dying of heart attacks, and people with cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dl aren’t. Our bodies are very complex organisms.
Your body’s level of inflammation, triglycerides, small particle LDL, Lp(a), ApoB, and other parameters help us craft a better assessment of your overall metabolic stability and risk for cardiac disease. Someone with triglycerides that are through the roof but a cholesterol level of 180 probably has a higher chance of developing cardiac issues than someone with normal triglyceride levels. High triglyceride levels are associated with diseases such as metabolic syndrome, which elevates our levels of systemic inflammation. Extreme fitness, not extreme duration, is best.
An exciting part of this study was that people with “extreme” or elite-level fitness were found to have a lower chance of dying than others at a lower level of fitness. That’s interesting. Previous studies have shown a U-shaped curve, or reverse J-curve. Those who didn’t exercise and those who exercised too much had similar chances of dying from a cardiac issue. Only those who exercised moderately had a lesser chance of disease and death from cardiac disease.
The data on this subject is still unsettled. Three to four hours of movement each week is our target. Each step counts toward that goal, even your five-minute walk from the parking lot. Call it what you like…exercise versus movement; the key is to move, move often and occasionally with ferocious intent.
This potential reverse J-curve issue applies to only a minimal number of people out there pounding the pavement every day or even twice a day. But it’s good news because once we catch the exercise bug, we may not need to worry about the amount we exercise.
Now, keep in mind that this study only discussed people’s fitness level, not how they achieved that level of fitness. Participants in this study with an elite fitness level might not have been running 100 miles a week. Previous research is pretty clear in this area. People who run ultramarathons or exercise too much seem to run into an issue of diminishing returns and possibly a problem with not being as “healthy” as they think they are.
Your aerobic or cardiac fitness matters. And it matters a lot. How you achieve that level matters for some (extreme elite athletes), but for the rest of us, it is only necessary to start to make our days a little harder. We should walk more, move more often, take the stairs, join our friends at their yoga class, and make an effort to improve our chance of living longer by simply trying to be more active each day. It works.