News Release

Low cardiorespiratory fitness in youth is associated with decreased work ability throughout adulthood

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Jyväskylä - Jyväskylän yliopisto

A study from the University of Jyväskylä confirms the concerns raised in the public domain about how young people’s decreased fitness may affect their future work ability. The association of low youth cardiorespiratory fitness and adulthood decreased work ability persisted until the end of working life, which predicts substantial societal costs.

In the 45-year study published in JAMA Network Open, the participant’s baseline physical fitness was measured in school between the ages of 12 and 19. Work ability was self-assessed twice during working life, between the ages of 37 and 44 and then between the ages of 57 and 64. Low cardiorespiratory fitness in adolescence was associated with decreased work ability and higher rates of absence due to illness in the middle of working life, and with decreased work ability at the end of working life. Low musculoskeletal fitness or high body mass was not associated with adulthood work ability.  

 

The study is the first to demonstrate the association of youth cardiorespiratory fitness with adulthood work ability in working men and women. Recently, studies among Swedish men have shown that low fitness in youth increases the risk of chronic disability in adulthood. 

 

“The finding is worrying, even though work ability is a multifaceted concept with numerous factors affecting it,” says doctoral researcher Perttu Laakso. “Given that the participants in the study were born in the 1960s and had a higher average youth cardiorespiratory level compared to today’s adolescents, the finding is even more worrisome." 

"It can be assumed that the risk of decreased work ability is higher among today’s adolescents.” 

For the individual, lowered work ability, sick leave and premature retirement are linked to decreased quality of life, and also result in higher economic burden at the societal level. 

The results of the study highlight the importance of physical fitness assessment in childhood and adolescence. By monitoring physical fitness of children and adolescents, those at high risk can be identified early and preventive strategies can be implemented. 

To improve cardiorespiratory fitness, Laakso encourages children, adolescents, and their families to increase physical activity in everyday life. Increasing the number of mandatory physical education classes in schools should also be discussed. In addition, he would look for easier access to organized sports so as to prevent dropout from organized physical activity, which is common in adolescence. 


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