Physical fitness differs between groups

In the scientific journal BMJ Open, an article based on a new SCAPIS study has just been published. SCAPIS is a unique study in the field of heart, vessels, and lungs. The goal is to be able to predict who is at risk of, for example, heart attack or stroke and treat them before illness occurs.

Important for coping with everyday life

Sedentary behavior, a large waist circumference, and advanced age are associated with inferior physical fitness among people aged 50 to 64. Significant fitness disparities are shown in a study with over 5,000 participants investigating the correlations in detail.

Fitness is a vital factor for performance in sports and the stamina required for exercising and leading an active everyday life. Previous studies have shown a strong connection between good fitness and various sickness and health outcomes, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

The present study, published in the scientific journal BMJ Open, involved 5,308 participants aged 50–64, 51% of whom were women. The article describes how maximal oxygen uptake (commonly known as VO2 max), a standard measure of fitness, varies from one demographic group to another.

The variables evaluated were sociodemographic as age, gender, education, lifestyle factors, perceived health, body measurements, and disease prevalence. Self-appraised physical activity and sedentariness were measured with an accelerometer

Fitness is unevenly distributed

Every participant completed a cycling fitness test while wearing an accelerometer on an elastic band around the waist. The purpose was to collect a week's measurements of the frequency, duration, and intensity level of individuals' exertion, on an everyday basis and during training sessions, if any.

The study's first author is Mats Börjesson, Professor of Sports Physiology at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

" The results revealed groups at higher risk of low fitness. These were older and foreign-born people with low educational levels, large waist sizes, poor self-perceived health, and a highly sedentary lifestyle. They undertook little high-intensity physical activity, and those commuted passively by car or public transport," Börjesson says.

Among the men in the study, straitened personal finances and previous tobacco smoking were also linked to inferior fitness. Overall, the results show an uneven distribution in the population.

One crucial requirement for an ability to focus various types of input on boosting fitness in these groups, or take other measures to prevent ill health, is knowledge of which people have low fitness levels. Such knowledge partly existed before but was then usually derived from studies of a few participants or select groups, such as men only or people from a specific socioeconomic group.

Valuable for health care and research

More detailed knowledge of fitness disparities among groups provides essential information from a broader perspective. Elin Ekblom Bak is a research fellow in sport science at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan, GIH) and the corresponding author of the study.

" This is one of the first studies that has been able to explore the association between physical activity versus sedentary behavior, on the one hand, measured with an accelerometer, and fitness on the other. Sedentariness and high-intensity physical activity were found, independently from each other, to be strongly associated with a low and high fitness level, respectively. Altogether, this study provides valuable knowledge for health care services and future research and public health efforts," Ekblom Bak says.

Information about the study

The article is based on the Swedish CArdioPulmonary bioImage Study (SCAPIS), with the Swedish Heart Lung foundation as the main funder. This sub-study is funded by Skandia Risk & Health, Region Västra Götaland and the Swedish Research Council.

The article is titled and can be found at BMJ Open. External link, opens in new window.

You can also find the article at DiVA, publications from GIH. External link, opens in new window.

More questions

Contact the main authors:

Mats Börjesson, Professor, Chief Physician, University of Gothenburg, tel: 070-529 83 60, e-mail:

Elin Ekblom-Bak, Associate Professor, School of Physical Education and Sport, tel: 070-789 59 17, e-mail:


  • Elin Ekblom Bak´s profilbildProfessor, studierektor, högskolelektorElin Ekblom Bakelin.ekblombak@gih.se08-120 53 861

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Last modified:29 Dec 2022