Can Aerobic Fitness Extend Your Life Span?


Cathe Friedrich enjoying the benefits of aerobic fitness.

When it comes to aging, many factors can impact how well we fare in our later years. From genetics to lifestyle choices, each aspect plays a role in determining our longevity. Scientists now know that one factor is aerobic capacity, a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can use during intense exercise.

It describes your ability to sustain aerobic exercise for a longer period, due to an enhanced level of fitness and cardiovascular health Studies show that people with higher aerobic capacity have a lower risk of chronic diseases and live longer healthier lives.

With age, aerobic capacity tends to decline, and this decline is a significant factor in the development of many chronic diseases. That’s why maintaining or even improving our aerobic capacity is crucial to living a long, healthy life.

Aerobic Capacity and Longevity: How Are They Related?

Several studies show a link between aerobic capacity and longevity. One such study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed 13,000 men for over two decades. The researchers found that those with the lowest aerobic capacity had a significantly higher risk of premature death from all causes than those with the highest aerobic capacity. The study found that even a modest improvement in aerobic capacity could significantly reduce the risk of premature death.

Another study, conducted by researchers at the University of South Carolina, found that people with higher aerobic capacity lived longer, regardless of their body weight or other health factors. The study followed over 20,000 men and women for 11 years and discovered that those with higher aerobic capacity had a 40% lower risk of premature death than those with low aerobic capacity.

So why is aerobic capacity so important for longevity? It’s closely linked to heart health. When we exercise, our heart pumps more blood to our muscles, which increases the amount of oxygen our muscles receive. This increased oxygen supply not only improves our athletic performance but also helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that people with higher aerobic capacity have lower blood pressure, lower levels of bad cholesterol, and a lower risk of heart disease.

Exercise Has Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Another reason aerobic capacity is essential for longevity is it helps to reduce inflammation. The body’s natural response to injury or infection is inflammation, but chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, reduces inflammation in the body, which can help to prevent chronic diseases.

Exercise and Lifestyle Factors That Affect Aerobic Fitness

Of course, maintaining or improving your aerobic capacity is easier said than done, especially as we age. But it’s not impossible. The key to maintaining your aerobic capacity is regular exercise, and you’re never too old to start.

The American Heart Association recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, such as walking briskly, cycling, or swimming. Before starting any new exercise program, speak with your doctor if you’re new to exercise or have health concerns.

Exercise is just one way to improve heart health, but there are many other lifestyle changes you can make. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. Additionally, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake can improve heart health.

It’s also essential to prioritize rest and recovery. Your body needs time to recover from exercise, so it’s important to take rest days and get enough sleep each night. Stress can also hurt your health and aerobic capacity, so finding ways to manage stress, such as through meditation or yoga, can be beneficial.

High Aerobic Capacity Could Prolong Your Life

The link between aerobic capacity and longevity is clear. Maintaining or improving your aerobic capacity through regular exercise and other lifestyle changes can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and extend your life.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that low aerobic capacity was a stronger predictor of death than other risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, and diabetes.

The link between aerobic capacity and longevity is not limited to just the elderly population. A study published in the European Heart Journal found that individuals with higher aerobic fitness in their late adolescence had a lower risk of death later in life.

The study followed over one million Swedish men over 29 years and found that those with high aerobic fitness in their late adolescence had a 35% lower risk of death from all causes compared to those with low aerobic fitness.

So, what is the science behind the link between aerobic capacity and longevity? One theory is that regular exercise and physical activity lead to improvements in cardiovascular health, which in turn reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

Plus, research shows moderate exercise reduces inflammation and improves immune function, both of which are important factors in overall health and longevity.

Exercise Promotes Telomere Health

Another theory is that regular exercise and physical activity promotes the growth and maintenance of telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of our chromosomes. Telomeres naturally shorten as we age, but research has shown that individuals who engage in regular exercise have longer telomeres than those who are sedentary. Longer telomeres are associated with a lower risk of age-related diseases and a longer lifespan.

Despite the overwhelming evidence linking aerobic capacity and longevity, many individuals still struggle to incorporate regular exercise into their daily routines. For some, the thought of spending hours in the gym or running miles on a treadmill is overwhelming and unappealing. Even small amounts of physical activity can have a significant impact on overall health.

Every adult should exercise for at least 150 minutes each week at a moderate intensity or 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity, according to the World Health Organization. This can include activities such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing. Plus, working all major muscle groups at least 2 days per week through strength training is important for maintaining healthy body composition and good insulin sensitivity.

Adopt a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

Don’t forget that other factors affect heart health. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can provide the nutrients necessary to support physical activity and promote overall health. Getting adequate sleep and managing stress can also have a significant impact on cardiovascular health and longevity.


The link between aerobic capacity and longevity is clear. Regular exercise and physical activity can improve cardiovascular health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and promote overall health and longevity. In addition, other lifestyle factors such as a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and stress management can also support cardiovascular health and longevity. So, make moving your body a priority! By prioritizing physical activity and overall health, you can improve your quality of life and increase the odds of living a long and healthy life.


  • Blair SN, Kohl HW 3rd, Paffenbarger RS Jr, Clark DG, Cooper KH, Gibbons LW. Physical fitness and all-cause mortality. A prospective study of healthy men and women. JAMA. 1989 Nov 3;262(17):2395-401. doi: 10.1001/jama.262.17.2395. PMID: 2795824.
  • “The Goldilocks Zone for Exercise: Not Too Little, Not Too Much”. 2023. Www.Ncbi.Nlm.Nih.Gov. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6139866/.
  • Song S, Lee E, Kim H. Does Exercise Affect Telomere Length? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Medicina (Kaunas). 2022 Feb 5;58(2):242. doi: 10.3390/medicina58020242. PMID: 35208566; PMCID: PMC8879766.
  • “Mortality reduction with physical activity in patients with and without cardiovascular disease”. 2023. Academic.Oup.Com. academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/40/43/3547/5552546.

Related Articles By Cathe:

Is It Ever Too Late to Improve Your Aerobic Fitness Level?

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Does Low-Intensity Exercise Have Health Benefits Too?

Can a Single Aerobic Exercise Session Boost the Health of Your Heart?

Is Being Aerobically Fit Key to Longevity?

How Aerobically Fit Are You? Here’s a Simple Way to Find Out

Why Does Aerobic Capacity Go Down as You Age?

How Much Can You Improve Your Aerobic Capacity?

5 Factors That Determine a Person’s Aerobic Capacity

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