Those who believe that age is just a number may be right, according to a new study that suggests exercise performance may be a better predictor of how long you’ll live than your age.

Using data from exercise stress tests, researchers at Cleveland Clinic developed a method to calculate someone’s “physiological age” based on how their heart responds during and after exercising.

More than 126,000 patients participated in the study, which involved a treadmill test that became progressively more difficult. Researchers monitored the patient’s exercise capacity, heart rate response and recovery throughout the test to determine their physiological age.

Researchers found, after an average follow-up of 8.7 years, that a patient’s estimated age based on their stress test was a significantly better predictor of mortality than age, even after taking into account gender, body mass index, and health concern like diabetes, smoking, and coronary artery disease.

“If you want to live longer then exercise more. It should improve your health and your length of life,” said study author Dr. Serge Harb, cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

"Telling a 45 year old that their physiological age is 55 should be a wake-up call that they are losing years of life by being unfit.”

Among participants, 55 per cent of males and 57 per cent of females between the ages of 50 and 60 had an estimated age younger than their chronological age.

Researchers hope that the stress test can be used as motivation to increase exercise performance, especially in older patients.

The study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.