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Cardiorespiratory fitness is a measure of the body’s aerobic capacity – the ability to deliver oxygen to skeletal muscles – during sustained physical activity. Poor cardiorespiratory fitness, along with dyslipidemia, family history, hypertension, age, cigarette smoking, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and physical inactivity, increases a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease and death. Findings from a new study indicate that cardiorespiratory fitness measured by submaximal testing predicts risk for deaths from all causes.

The most accurate way to assess cardiorespiratory fitness involves measuring maximal oxygen uptake, often referred to as VO2 max, during a graded exercise test in a laboratory, clinical, or research setting. The sheer logistics of measuring VO2 max in large groups of people present challenges, however. Submaximal exercise testing, which typically involves completion of a standardized exercise or task using a treadmill or bicycle, is a viable option in these settings.

The study involved more than 58,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69 years who were enrolled in the UK Biobank Prospective Study. The authors of the study categorized the participants according to their level of risk based on the participants' age, sex, medical history, and biochemical indicators. Then the participants underwent submaximal exercise testing using a stationary exercise bicycle.

The results of the submaximal exercise testing revealed a linear relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and the risk of death. In fact, submaximal exercise testing served as a highly reliable predictor of death, even beyond conventional risk factors, especially among people with few risk factors.

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