Cardiologist Kyle T. Mandsager has some bad news for couch potatoes everywhere: When it comes to health risks, it turns out that lying around may be even worse than lighting up. That's what Mandsager (12MD) and his colleagues at Cleveland Clinic discovered when they analyzed the largest group of patients and exercise-testing data to date. Their research, which appeared in JAMA Network Open this past fall and drew national media attention from CNN and The New York Times, analyzed information from 122,007 patients who did treadmill tests between 1991 and 2014. The study evaluated patients' test results, habits, medical histories, and post-test survival rates.
The study found that extremely fit individuals lived the longest and saw more benefits to their health than those with modestly elevated fitness levels. Mandsager and his fellow researchers also learned that, accounting for other health factors, poor fitness significantly increases a person's risk of death—greater than five times, compared to the most fit individuals—and this increased risk was similar to, or worse than, the risks associated with smoking, heart disease, or high blood pressure.
"The issue of exercise often is the elephant in the room when physicians are meeting with patients," says Mandsager, a third-generation UI medical graduate. "I hope that patients and physicians alike are struck by just how important it is to be fit—and will have those crucial conversations about diet and exercise."