BACKGROUND: Fitness level and obesity have been associated with death in older populations. We investigated the relationship between aerobic fitness in late adolescence and early death, and whether a high fitness level can compensate the risk of being obese.
METHODS: The cohort comprised 1 317 713 Swedish men (mean age, 18 years) that conscripted between 1969 and 1996. Aerobic fitness was assessed by an electrically braked cycle test. All-cause and specific causes of death were tracked using national registers. Multivariable adjusted associations were tested using Cox regression models.
RESULTS: During a mean follow-up period of 29 years, 44 301 subjects died. Individuals in the highest fifth of aerobic fitness were at lower risk of death from any cause [hazard ratio (HR), 0.49; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.47-0.51] in comparison with individuals in the lowest fifth, with the strongest association seen for death related to alcohol and narcotics abuse (HR, 0.20; 95% CI, 0.15-0.26). Similar risks were found for weight-adjusted aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness was associated with a reduced risk of death from any cause in normal-weight and overweight individuals, whereas the benefits were reduced in obese individuals (P < 0.001 for interaction). Furthermore, unfit normal-weight individuals had 30% lower risk of death from any cause (HR, 0.70; 95% CI, 0.53-0.92) than did fit obese individuals.
CONCLUSIONS: Low aerobic fitness in late adolescence is associated with an increased risk of early death. Furthermore, the risk of early death was higher in fit obese individuals than in unfit normal-weight individuals.