Cardio fitness has been getting a lot of attention from major health organizations like the American Heart Association. And for good reason. As Fitbit previously reported, people with low cardiorespiratory fitness have a 56 percent higher risk of death from heart disease than those who are the most fit. “Cardiorespiratory fitness is one of the most powerful predictive risk factors for premature cardiovascular disease there is,” says study co-author Timothy S. Church, MD, PhD, MPH, professor of preventative medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “It’s right up there with smoking, diabetes, and family history.”
But as you’ll see below, preventing heart disease isn’t the only reason you should care about your Cardio Fitness Score. In fact, it’s something everyone should be monitoring, says Church.
“I think the continued evolution of physical activity tracking and measuring devices is creating a huge potential opportunity for the widespread use of fitness as an important health marker.”
Need more convincing? Read on for five more compelling ways improving your Cardio Fitness Score can positively affect your health.
5 Reasons to Improve Your Cardio Fitness Score
Reduce belly fat. Having a healthy body mass index (BMI)—a measure of body fat based on height and weight—doesn’t mean you can avoid exercise. Researchers have found that healthy middle-aged men with high cardiorespiratory fitness scores tend to have lower amounts of visceral fat—a type of fat found deep within the abdomen that’s associated with health conditions like heart disease and type-2 diabetes—regardless of their BMI. Even at the same BMI, men with high cardiorespiratory fitness have, on average, 23 percent less visceral fat than those who are the least fit.
Sleep better. A recent review of sleep research concludes that regular exercise can help adults fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and wake up less. One of the studies looked specifically at the relationship between sleep quality and cardiorespiratory fitness, and found that the better middle-aged adults did on a treadmill test, the less likely they were to have sleep complaints. Other studies found decreased physical activity leads to an increased risk for insomnia.
Prevent diabetes. When researchers evaluated the health of a group of people who had risk factors for type-2 diabetes (family history, hypertension, etc.) but hadn’t developed the disease yet, one metric stood out: VO2 max—the gold standard for measuring cardiorespiratory fitness. Individuals at risk for type-2 diabetes had a VO2 max 15 percent lower than a control group. The study authors wrote, “This raises the possibility that decreased VO2 max is among the earliest indicators of insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.”
Combat anxiety. Numerous studies show the positive effect regular exercise has on anxiety. In a 2016 study, researchers found that women with panic disorder who performed aerobic exercise three times a week for 12 weeks experienced a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms as well as a significant improvement in their cardiorespiratory fitness.
Dodge the blues. A 2016 meta-analysis in Preventive Medicine found that people with low cardiorespiratory fitness have a 75 percent increased risk of depression; people with medium cardio fitness levels have an increased risk of about 23 percent.