Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) We’ve all heard exercise helps you live longer. But a new study goes one step further, finding that a sedentary lifestyle is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease.
Dr. Wael Jaber, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and senior author of the study, called the results “extremely surprising.” “Being unfit on a treadmill or in an exercise stress test has a worse prognosis, as far as death, than being hypertensive, being diabetic or being a current smoker,” Jaber told CNN. “We’ve never seen something as pronounced as this and as objective as this.”
Researchers retrospectively studied 122,007 patients who underwent exercise treadmill testing at Cleveland Clinic between January 1, 1991 and December 31, 2014 to measure all-cause mortality relating to the benefits of exercise and fitness. Those with the lowest exercise rate accounted for 12% of the participants.
“There is no level of exercise or fitness that exposes you to risk,” he said. “We can see from the study that the ultra-fit still have lower mortality.”
The benefits of exercise were seen across all ages and in both men and women, “probably a little more pronounced in females,” Jaber said. “Whether you’re in your 40s or your 80s, you will benefit in the same way.”
“People who do not perform very well on a treadmill test,” Jaber said, “have almost double the risk of people with kidney failure on dialysis.”
Comparing those with a sedentary lifestyle to the top exercise performers, he said, the risk associated with death is “500% higher.” “If you compare the risk of sitting versus the highest performing on the exercise test, the risk is about three times higher than smoking,” Jaber explained.