Abstract The objective of the study undertaken among the elderly was to assess the strength and importance of health variable predictors (ventilatory lung function, blood pressure) in comparison with that of sociodemograhic variables (age, sex, education), smoking habit, obesity and health self-assessment. The study covered a sample of elderly inhabitants of Cracow (698 males and 1211 females) who attended the mass screening X-ray clinic. The sample examined did not include patients of old people's homes or geriatric wards. Statistical analysis of the relation between mortality over a 5-year period and chosen predictors was carried out with Cox proportional hazards model. It was found that besides age, forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV 1) level is the strongest survival predictor among the elderly. Subjects who had better FEV 1 by 500 ml showed significantly lower death risk, by 18% in males and 27% in females after allowing for age and height. The results obtained confirmed the expectation that ventilatory lung function is one of the strongest predictors of survival in the elderly. In the sample studied, the impact of education, smoking habit, obesity, health self-assessment on mortality was not significant. The effect of hypertension appeared to be relevant only in the female group.