Modern Medicine Helps, But Fitness Still Matters



I learned about two important studies from the Cooper institute on Clarence Bass’s website. This institute was founded by Dr. Ken Cooper, whom many call the “father of aerobics”. Reading his classic book Aerobics way back in the early 70s helped get me started on a life of fitness.

Modern Medicine Helps, But Fitness Still Matters 1
Dr. Kenneth Cooper

The first was a landmark study in 1989 that showed a strong reduction in all-cause mortality risk with increasing cardiorespiratory fitness [1]. This study had an important impact on preventive health care, and prompted the American Heart Association to add physical inactivity to the list of risk factors for heart disease. The second study is a follow-up in 2020 [2] that confirms the findings of the ’89 study. In the intervening years we’ve developed better screening, and important medical advances like the use of statins and stents. Death rates from major diseases like heart disease and cancer have dropped a lot thanks to modern medicine.

But the fact remains that staying more physically fit still considerably reduces the risk of all-cause mortality. The findings are summarized here on the Cooper institute’s website.

Modern Medicine Helps, But Fitness Still Matters 2
Mortality risk for sedentary people is lower in the current era than previously, but mortality risk still dramatically decreases with improved fitness

These results also have a bearing on the “how much is too much exercise” argument. The ability to exercise at 15 METs is very high fitness, yet still shows reduced mortality risk.


  1. Blair, S.N., et al. (1989). Physical fitness and all-cause mortality. Journal of the American Medical Association. 262:2395-2401
  2. Farrell, S.W., et al. (2020). Relevance of fitness to mortality risk in men receiving contemporary medical care. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Published online March 30, 2020.