Health Team

Over 60, Fit More Important Than Fat for Longevity

Newly published research found that for seniors, fitness is more important than staying trim in striving for a long life.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — We know it's important to maintain a healthy weight year-round, even with the rich foods that tempt us this season.

Some new research results found, however, that for seniors, fitness is more important than staying trim.

Regular exercise is a habit for 67-year-old Bob Markland.

“I think it's important for older people in terms of keeping their weight down,” Markland said.

But keeping down weight is not the only reason older people should stay active. It’s just better for them.

“Even in individuals who were fat – indeed, even in people who were obese – if they were fit, they did not have higher risk of dying,” Dr. Steven Blair, an exercise and fitness expert at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health.

Researchers studied fatness and fitness and death rates in about 2,600 people aged 60 and older. Their study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows cardiovascular fitness appears to be more important than weight when it comes to predicting mortality.

“You ask how? How can a person be fat and fit? Well, you have to exercise,” Blair said.

Blair defines exercise as 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week. Do that, and you're considered fit regardless of your weight.

“In fact, even if you're obese and fit, your death rate is no different than the normal-weight person who is fit,” Blair said.

Blair notes, however, that severe obesity does lead to higher death rates. A 40-inch waist for men and 35 inches for women are considered too high.

In general, though, fitness is associated with a lower risk of death. The least-fit people, whether thin or fat, have a death rate twice as high as those who exercise regularly.

In fact, the study, which determined fitness through a treadmill test, found that the 20 percent of the people in the study who were the least fit had a death rate four times that of the most-fit 20 percent.

“As a 68-year-old fat man,” Blair said, “I'm still running 25 miles a week.”

From this study, it appears that staying active is a key to living a longer and healthier life.


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