Cheat death by breaking a sweat

Earlier this week, we talked about what exercise can’t do. So today, let’s look at what it can do.

You may already know that regular exercise can work wonders for your mood and help ward off depression. But staying fit can also dramatically slash your odds of dying.

Which may not surprise you—at least, not if you’ve been paying attention. Exercise is linked to improving many aspects of your health. But these latest findings are pretty jaw-dropping nevertheless…

Quadruple the risk of death

Spanish researchers presented their findings at the scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology late last year. Their study focused on just over 4,700 women who had received echocardiograms due to known or suspected coronary artery disease.

Subjects either walked or ran on a treadmill, with increasing intensity, until exhaustion. In this case, maximal workloads of ten metabolic equivalents, or METs, constituted “fitness.”

(This is the amount of energy you might spend quickly climbing four flights of stairs without stopping. In other words, vigorous intensity.)

Researchers compared women who were able to reach this capacity with those who weren’t. And, well… let’s just say some pretty critical differences emerged. Namely, a significantly lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and any other cause was found among the fittest women.

To be more specific, women with poor exercise capacity died of heart disease at a rate that was four times higher than their fitter counterparts. Twice as many of these women died of cancer annually. And their annual rate of death from any other cause was a staggering four times higher, too.

Sitting disease strikes again

It’s probably worth noting that the majority of the women in this study were middle-aged or older—the average age was 64 years, and a good 80 percent fell between 50 and 75 years old.

So while the study didn’t find a difference between women over and under 60, the number of women younger than 50 was small.

Researchers also collected heart imaging throughout the fitness tests, to assess pumping function. Not surprisingly, poor heart function was linked with a higher risk of heart disease death during follow up. But it wasn’t a predictor of death from any other cause, including cancer.

This means that women with normal heart function during exercise are less likely to die of a heart attack or other cardiovascular event. But if they struggle with low exercise capacity anyway, they’re still at risk of dying from cancer—or anything else.

Bottom line? Lack of fitness takes its toll, one way or the other. So, as I’m always telling you, you must keep moving. Because it’s truly a matter of life or death. Start by simply getting up off the couch…and aim for regular movement for at least 20 minutes each day.

Until next time,

Dr. Fred

P.S. I’m constantly talking about ways exercise is beneficial to your health, here in my Reality Health Check, and in my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives. In fact, I even devoted a lengthy article showcasing the role of exercise for patients with active cancer diagnoses in the July 2016 issue (“The next big cancer breakthrough—coming soon to a gym near you?”). Subscribers have access to this and all of my past content in the archives. So if you haven’t already, consider signing up today!


“Women, exercise and longevity.” Science Daily, 12/07/2019. (