If you want to live longer, new research suggests that maintaining your level of fitness could add years to your life, regardless of whether or not you gain weight along the way.
In new findings published December 6 in the journal Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, men who maintained fitness levels or improved them over the course of 11 years were less likely to die from any illness, including heart disease and stroke — regardless of whether or not they gained weight over the years.
The study examined data from more than 14,000 men mostly of normal body mass index and averaging 44 years old.
"Many people worry about their weight and weight gain, but based on our study, weight change is less important than fitness changes," said researcher Duck-chul Lee, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health in Columbia.
The study supports previous research on the health benefits of fitness, including one that found adults over age 60 who had higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness lived longer than unfit adults, regardless of their levels of body fat.
"Fitness is a much greater predictor of [death] than weight," American Heart Association spokesman Richard Stein, M.D., told health website WebMD. "If you have been struggling with your weight for years, putting your work into endurance fitness is clearly a very powerful predictor of living longer."
If you're obese, experts believe the advice could hold true for you, but talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness program. Also, if you're slim but inactive, "don't fool yourself into thinking, ‘I am skinny and will be fine if I don't do any exercise,'" advised Stein in the article. "You won't be."