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Can Your Life Expectancy Be Determined by a Treadmill?

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In the near future, there may be a familiar addition to your doctor’s office: a treadmill. This could be good news or bad news, depending on how much you love—or hate—the ol’ dreadmill. (We vote for love, based on these 5 Reasons.) 

A team of Johns Hopkins University cardiologists has found a way to accurately predict your risk of dying over a 10-year period based solely off how well you’re able to run on a treadmill, using something they call a FIT Treadmill Score, a measure of cardiovascular health. (PS: the treadmill can also Counteract Alzheimer's.)

Here’s how it works: You start walking on a treadmill at 1.7 mph, at a 10% incline. Every three minutes, you increase your speed and incline. (See the exact numbers.) While you walk and run, your doctor keeps tabs on your heart rate and how much energy you’re expending (measured by METs, or metabolic equivalents of task; one MET is equal to the amount of energy you’d expect just sitting around, two METs is slow walking, and so on). When you feel like you’re at your absolute limit, you stop. (Check out 8 Ways to Override the Urge to Quit.)

When you’re done, your M.D. will calculate what percentage of your maximum predicted heart rate (MPHR) you reached. (Calculate your MPHR.) It’s based on age; if you’re 30, it’s 190. So if your heart rate reaches 162 while you’re running on the treadmill, you hit 85 percent of your MPHR.)

Then, he’ll use this simple formula to calculate your FIT Treadmill Score: [percentage of MPHR] + [12 x METs] – [4 x your age] + [43 if you’re a women]. You’re aiming for a score that’s greater than 100, which means you have a 98 percent chance of surviving over the next decade. If you’re between 0 and 100, you have a 97 percent chance; between -100 and -1, it’s 89 percent; and less than -100, it’s 62 percent.

While many regular treadmills calculate heart rate and METs, those measures aren’t always accurate, so this is probably something you should do with your doctor’s guidance. (See: Is Your Fitness Tracker Lying?) Still, it’s a lot easier than a regular stress test, which also takes into account variables like electrocardiogram readings, and therefore is much more time-intensive. (Either way, you should definitely try some of our favorite treadmill workouts.)