Physical Activity and Cardiorespiratory Fitness as Modulators of Health Outcomes: A Compelling Research-Based Case Presented to the Medical Community

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Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology


The beneficial health effects and prognostic significance of regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (PA), increased cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), or both are often underappreciated by the medical community and the patients they serve. Individuals with low CRF have higher annual health care costs, higher rates of surgical complications, and are two to three times more likely to die prematurely than their fitter counterparts when matched for risk factor profile or coronary calcium score. Increased levels of habitual PA before hospitalization for acute coronary syndromes are also associated with better short-term cardiovascular outcomes. Accordingly, this review examines these relations and the potential underlying mechanisms of benefit (eg, exercise preconditioning), with specific reference to the incidence of cardiovascular, cancer, and coronavirus diseases, and the prescriptive implications and exercise thresholds for optimizing health outcomes. To assess the evidence supporting or refuting the benefits of PA and CRF, we performed a literature search (PubMed) and critically reviewed the evidence to date. In aggregate, these data are presented in the context of clarifying the impact that regular PA and/or increased CRF have on preventing and treating chronic and infectious diseases, with reference to evidence-based exercise thresholds that the medical community can embrace and promote.

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Mayo Clinic Proceedings