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How Old Are You, Really? Your ‘Performance Age’ Can Tell You

It shows how healthy you are more than your chronological age does, according to new research.


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  • Your performance age—or how fit you are—is a better predictor of how long you’ll live than your chronological age is, according to research from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
  • Those who exercised regularly lived about 10 years longer than those who didn’t exercise.
  • This is the largest study of its kind, with over 126,000 patients examined over a period of 24 years.

You know how good getting out on your bike makes you feel. But it also may be doing your body more good than you thought, too: Getting out for a ride on the regular may help you live about 10 years longer than your more sedentary peers, a study published the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggests.

The study included 126,356 men and women (with an average chronological age of 54) who had an exercise stress test—which measures how well your heart responds to the stress of exercise—done for the first time at Cleveland Clinic between 1991 and 2015.

To estimate people’s performance age—which is called A-BEST (Age Based on Exercise Stress Testing) in the study—researchers crunched the data on their exercise capacity (in metabolic equivalent of task, or METs), heart rate during exercise, and heart rate after exercise. Having a higher exercise capacity and a quicker return to regular heart rate after exercise was linked to a younger performance age.

The results? Over half of those who were between 50 and 60 years old—55 percent of men and 57 percent of women—were younger, physiologically speaking, than their actual age.

And that translated to some life-lengthening benefits: After an average followup of almost nine years, 9,929 participants who had a performance age older than their chronological age had died. On average, their performance age was scored about 10 years older than their real age.

This may be because your performance age is a pretty good reflection of how fit and healthy you are, which obviously plays a big role in your lifespan, says study coauthor Serge Harb, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.

“The healthier you are, the better your exercise performance (exercise capacity), your heart rate response to exercise, and your heart rate recovery is,” he told Bicycling. “They are, by themselves, strong predictors of mortality.”

It’s beneficial to know what your performance age is, Harb said, since it’s a risk estimate that’s simple, clear, and easier to understand than your doctor telling you that, say, your exercise capacity is about 8 METs and your heart rate recovery isn’t normal. The problem is, you’d have to undergo similar testing to this study to find out what your performance age actually is—it’s not a calculation you can get at your doctor’s office just yet. However, with research like this showing how helpful this data is to have, maybe it will be one day soon.

But the bottom line is this: Until that calculation is more readily available, work on what you can do to maintain, or even improve, your fitness as you age. Keep riding—and cross-training—to not only boost your performance, but to live longer, too.

Danielle Zickl specializes in interpreting and reporting the latest health research and also writes and edits in-depth service pieces about fitness, training, and nutrition. Her work has also been published in Men's Health

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This post originally appeared on Bicycling and was published March 18, 2019. This article is republished here with permission.

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