Being physically unfit is more damaging to living a long life than everything except smoking, according to a study published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

And as the Huffington Post puts it: "We all know how evil smoking is." Researchers measured the maximum oxygen intake of nearly 800 men who were 54 in 1967.

The study continued through 2012, with those participants who were still alive being tested about once a decade. Aerobic capacity is a measure of physical fitness; the higher the capacity the more fit the individual, according to a press release.

The New York Times reports that people with the lowest aerobic capacity had a 21 percent higher risk of dying prematurely than people with middling aerobic capacity and a 42 percent higher risk of dying early than people with the best aerobic capacity.

The study confirms what others have found but over a much longer time period. "The benefits of being physically active over a lifetime are clear," study author Dr. Per Ladenvall says in the press release. The study found being out of shape was an even bigger risk than high blood pressure or cholesterol. In fact, men who were fit but had blood pressure or cholesterol problems still tended to live longer than unfit men with good blood pressure and cholesterol.

The CDC found 80 percent of Americans don't meet federal recommendations for aerobic strength. But the good news is it's never too late to start improving fitness.

"We have come a long way in reducing smoking," Ladenvall says in the press release. "The next major challenge is to keep us physically active and also to reduce physical inactivity, such as prolonged sitting." (Another study found one in four people barely ever get off the couch.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Study: Being Out of Shape Nearly as Deadly as Smoking

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