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How long can you last on the treadmill? Study ties performance to risk of death

WATCH: Global News speaks with cardiologist Dr. Haitham Ahmed about the study

American researchers are giving you a good reason to get acquainted with the treadmill: their new research suggests that how you fare on the treadmill could be a good indicator for your risk of death in the next decade.

Cardiologists out of Johns Hopkins University say they’ve developed an algorithm – dubbed the FIT Treadmill Score – to help determine your health for the next 10 years. Next to age and gender, they say that your heart rate and how highly activated your metabolism is while running can be key predictors that gauge your risk of dying.

“The notion that being in good physical shape portends lower death risk is by no means new but we wanted to quantify that risk precisely by age, gender and fitness level, and do so with an elegantly simple equation that requires no additional fancy testing beyond the standard stress test,” according to lead researcher, Dr. Haitham Ahmed, a cardiology fellow out of Hopkins’ School of Medicine.

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Simply put, your results on a treadmill test could be a telltale sign of if you’ll be alive a decade from now.

Exercise stress tests are often used to measure how well the heart and lungs are working, especially when they’re under physical demand. In this case, the treadmill test had participants walking on a treadmill as the speed and elevation progressed every few minutes.

They were monitored by the professionals – once they couldn’t keep up or encountered chest pain, dizziness or heart rhythm issues, the test stopped.

There were about 58,000 heart stress tests that were analyzed. This group of people – between 18 and 96 years old – were healthy, without any established heart disease trouble.

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They underwent stress tests in Detroit, Michigan, between 1991 and 2009. After that, the researchers tracked death from any cause in the following decade.

The scoring takes age, gender, your ability to handle physical exertion and your peak heart rate into account. The scientists refer to METs – or metabolic equivalents – as the measure of how much high energy output you can manage. Walking slow requires two METs, for example, while running would take eight.

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The scores also ranged from negative 200 up to positive 200. Turns out, patients who scored in the negative had the highest risk of dying within the next decade.

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Patients who scored 100 or higher had a two per cent risk of dying over the next 10 years while those with a score between 0 and 100 faced a three per cent death risk.

That means that two out of 100 people of the same age and gender with a score of 100 or more would die over the next 10 years compared to three out of 100 who score between 0 and 100.

If you scored between 0 and negative 100, you had an 11 per cent risk of dying in the next 10 years while those with scores lower than negative 100 had a 38 per cent risk of dying.

“For example, a 45-year-old woman with a fitness score in the bottom fifth percentile is estimated to have a 38 percent risk of dying over the next decade, compared with 2 percent for a 45-year-old woman with a top fitness score,” the study authors explained in a press release.

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“Fitness level was the single most powerful predictor of death and survival, even after researchers accounted for other important variables such as diabetes and family history of premature death – a finding that underscores the profound importance of heart and lung fitness,” the release warns.

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The U.S. doctors suggest that the test could be rolled out in health care settings around the world. The test is cheap, aside from the cost of the treadmill, and the calculations are easy to put together too.

“We hope the score will become a mainstay in cardiologists’ and primary clinicians’ offices as a meaningful way to illustrate risk among those who undergo cardiac arrest testing and propel people with poor results to become more physically active,” the researchers say.

Their full findings were published Monday morning in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Read the study here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca