If you can tackle a tough workout, that may bode well for your longevity, new research suggests.

A woman’s risk of dying from heart disease, cancer or other causes is much lower if she can engage in vigorous exercise, scientists report.

The new study included more than 4,700 middle-aged and older women, average age 64, who were referred for treadmill exercise echocardiography because they had known or suspected coronary artery disease.

The women walked or ran on a treadmill with a gradual increase in intensity, and continued until they were exhausted.

During a median follow-up of 4.6 years, there were 345 heart-related deaths, 164 cancer deaths and 203 deaths from other causes. After adjusting for other factors, the researchers concluded that high exercise capacity was significantly associated with lower risk of death during follow-up, though the study didn’t prove a cause-and-effect link.

The annual rate of death from heart disease was nearly four times higher in women with poor exercise capacity (2.2%) than in those with good exercise capacity (0.6%), the investigators found.

The annual rate of cancer deaths was twice as high among women with poor exercise capacity (0.9%) than those with good exercise capacity (0.4%), and the annual rate of death from other causes was more than four times higher among those with poor exercise capacity (1.4%) than those with good exercise capacity (0.3%), the findings showed.

The study was to be presented Dec. 7 at a European Society of Cardiology meeting, in Vienna. Such research should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“The results were the same for women over 60 and less than 60, although the group under 50 was small,” said study author Dr. Jesus Peteiro, from the University Hospital A Coruna in Spain.

“Exercise as much as you can. Fitness protects against death from any cause,” Peteiro advised in a society news release.

Heart imaging was conducted on the women while they were on the treadmill to assess heart function. Those with poor heart function during exercise were more likely to die from heart disease during follow-up. Heart function during exercise didn’t predict the risk of death from cancer or other causes.

“Looking at both examinations together, women whose heart works normally during exercise are unlikely to have a cardiovascular event,” Peteiro said. “But if their exercise capacity is poor, they are still at risk of death from cancer or other causes. The best situation is to have normal heart performance during exercise and good exercise capacity.”

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more on heart health for women.