Those who were able to push themselves the hardest
during exercise had half the risk of dying of study participants who
were the least fit, indicating the benefits of exercising are not
limited to the young or middle aged, researchers said.
“The population is aging dramatically, so it’s important that we ask
questions about patients who are older,” said Charles Faselis, lead
author of the study and an internist at the Washington, DC, Veterans
Affairs Medical Center.
In the study, published in the journal Hypertension, Faselis and his
team looked at exercise tests previously performed for 2,153 men who
were patients at the Washington, DC and Palo Alto, California VA
All participants were at least 70 years of age and underwent the
test either as part of a checkup or to see if the vessels in their
hearts were clogged.
The men were split into four groups based on the highest level at
which they could exercise. The categories were based on a unit of
fitness known as metabolic equivalents, or METs.
The lowest category - “very-low fit” - comprised men who could
achieve between two and four METs; “low-fit” were those who achieved
4.1 to six METs; and “moderate-fit” was between 6.1 and eight METs.
The men in the best shape could achieve more than eight METs and
were considered “high-fit.”
Faselis and his team took into account other factors that could
affect the results, such as body mass index, heart disease and
medications for heart disease. Researchers followed the men for an
average of nine years to evaluate their risk of dying. During that
time, about 1,000 of the participants passed away.
The study team found that compared to the men with the least ability
to exercise (the very low-fit group), those in the next-highest
category (low-fit) had an 18 percent lower risk of dying. The men
who were moderately fit had a 36 percent lower risk of dying during
follow-up, and the high-fit men had a 48 percent lower risk of
In other words, for every 100 people in the very low-fit category
who would die, the high-fit group would have only 52 individuals
die, said Peter Kokkinos, another author of the study and a
researcher in cardiology at the Washington, DC, Veterans Affairs
“As we go higher in fitness, we go lower in mortality risk and death
rates,” Kokkinos told Reuters Health.[to top of second column]
The researchers cannot say for certain that fitness prolonged some
of the men’s lives, but after they adjusted for the possibility that
sickness prevented some men from being able to exercise the link
between METS and mortality still held.
Faselis and his team emphasized that being fit doesn’t mean running
marathons or spending hours at the gym. In fact, people over age 70
with high blood pressure can lower their risk of dying by walking
for about half an hour most days of the week, the researchers said.
“We aren’t asking people to do things that are out of this world” to
get fitter, Faselis said.
That amount of walking is “very doable even in this elderly
population,” he said.
Still, as with any new fitness regimen, it’s important to check with
a healthcare provider before starting. As long as one’s doctor says
it’s safe to start to exercise, it’s never too late to get going.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are - fitness works,” Kokkinos said.
“People think, ‘I’m 60, I’m over the hill.’ But it doesn’t matter,”
he said. In fact, the oldest study participant was 92 years old, he
told Reuters Health.
“Keep moving” if you’re already active, and if you’re not, then “get
off the couch,” he said.
Hypertension, online May 12, 2014.
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