When it comes to warding off premature death, how fit you are may be more important than how much you weigh.


Research published Monday afternoon in Circulation, the Journal of the American Heart Association followed 14,358 middle-aged men (median age 44) over 11.4 years. Those who became more fit (according to measurements of aerobic intensity on a treadmill) or maintained fitness were at lower overall risk of death and also of dying from cardiovascular disease during the followup period.

But there was no association between changes in body-mass index (BMI) and risk of mortality or death from cardiovascular disease. And those who became less fit over the study period were at increased risk of death, regardless of any change in their BMI.

The findings will likely be welcomed by those who argue that being fit is more important to your health than how much you weigh.

But the study’s authors note several aspects of their research that might limit the import of its findings. First, all of the participants were male, and 90 percent were either of normal weight or overweight at the start of the study. Most were “relatively fit” at the outset, and all were white and of the middle or upper class. It’s not clear, then, how the findings might apply to women or to very obese people, for instance.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and by an unrestricted grant from The Coca-Cola Company. Duck-chul Lee, a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina and the study’s lead author, says the company had no influence on the study’s design or findings.