How Fitness in Your 50s May Predict Your Lifespan

Middle-aged athletes – men and women – are used to facing criticism or skepticism from our sedentary peers. It’s a midlife crisis, vanity, an attempt to recapture our youth, a way of denying that we’re getting older, and the list goes on

What they fail to understand is that we don’t train to hold on to the past, but rather to live our best lives now and to prepare to lead healthy and active lives for decades to come. And research shows that the training you do in your 40s and 50s can add years to your life and life to your years.

How Fitness in Your 50s May Predict Your Lifespan

Data from the Copenhagen Male Study

The study by Johan Clausen and his team and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology used initial data from 1970-71 on 5,107 healthy, employed men in the Copenhagen Male Study and 45 years worth of follow-up data. Their goal was to find out whether cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) in middle age (the average age was 48.8 years old when initial data was gathered) affected all-cause mortality and mortality due to cardiovascular disease. The men were categorized into one of four groups, based on maximum aerobic capacity:

- Below the lower limit of normal: average VO2 max of 20.7 ml/kg/min
- Low normal: average VO2 max of 28.3 ml/kg/min
- High normal: average VO2 max of 37.1 ml/kg/min
- Above the upper limit of normal: average VO2 max of 49.6 ml/kg/min

Forty-five years after the initial data was collected, 92% of the men had died. Of the 4700 deaths, 42% were caused by cardiovascular disease. However, throughout all the ways the data was analyzed, higher CRF in middle age was associated with greater longevity. The table below summarizes the number of additional years the Low Normal, High Normal, and Above Upper Limit of Normal groups lived, compared to the Below Lower Limit of Normal group.

Table: Additional Years of Life

Analysis type Cause of Death Low Normal CRF High Normal CRF Above Upper Limit of Normal CRF
Age only All-Cause mortality +3 years +4.2 years +6.4 years
Multivariable All-Cause mortality +2.1 years +2.9 years +4.9 years
Age only Cardiovascular mortality +3.3 years +4.4 years +6.7 years
Multivariable Cardiovascular mortality +2.2 years +2.6 years +4.5 years


The Above Upper Limit of Normal (AULN) group is most relevant to the audience for this blog, because the VO2 max values are similar to what we see in moderately- to well-trained men in their 40s and 50s. Men with AULN CRF at age 48 lived +6.4-6.7 years longer than men with Below Lower Limit of Normal (BLLN) CRF.

Then they accounted for other variables: adjustment for age at inclusion, body mass index, self-reported physical activity (light, moderate, or high), baseline diabetes (yes/no), smoking status (present, prior, or never), alcohol consumption (0 to 2 U/day, 3 to 5 U/day, or >5 U/day), systolic blood pressure >140 mm Hg, and socioeconomic status (high, middle, or low). With those variables considered, longevity for the AULN group decreased a bit, but was still +4.5-4.9 years.

The above is a short excerpt from the full CTS TrainRight article, to read the full article, please visit:

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