A new study carried out in Germany suggests that our health and fitness habits can predict the outcome of our overall health almost 20 years later.
The research analysed 243 women and 252 men who were an average age of 45 years at the study baseline. The participants, who were followed-up from 1992 to 2010, were required to complete a series of questionnaires and undertake medical and fitness tests in the years 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2010.
A four-stage "bio-psychosocial model" was used to pinpoint factors that could have an impact on future health and fitness.
The first stage included environmental factors, such as socio-economic status and migration background. The second stage consisted of personal factors, including social support, stress management strategies and the feeling of coherence. Behavioural factors, such as smoking, physical exercise and eating habits made up the third stage, while the fourth stage consisted of physical fitness and health.
The analysis showed that all factors in all four stages had both a direct and indirect impact on participants' physical fitness and health in 1992. However, the researcher found that nutrition and physical exercise habits reported at the baseline of the study affected the fitness of participants during the following 18 years up until the 2010 cut-off.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Alexander Woll, of the Institute of Sports and Science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, said: "The results of our study reveal how important it is to acquire health-promoting habits at early adult age already. This should also be in the focus of prevention measures."
The researchers note that they were surprised to find no direct relationship between physical fitness and health itself when measuring participants' body mass index (BMI), waist-hip ratio, blood pressure, cholesterol and uric acid.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.