Fit Beats Fat for a Longer Life
Obesity Has Lesser Influence on Death Rates in Older People, Study shows
Dec. 4, 2007 -- Staying fit is more important than losing fat for older
adults, new research suggests.
Fitness was found to be a strong predictor of longevity in the study, which
involved adults ages 60 and older, while obesity had little influence on
Study participants who were more fit, as measured by treadmill exercise
testing, had a lower risk of death than those who were unfit, even when they
were overweight or obese.
A low level of fitness was associated with a higher risk of death from all
The study is appears in the Dec. 5 issue of The Journal of the American
University of South Carolina diet and exercise researcher Steven N. Blair,
PED, says it is increasingly clear that carrying excess weight is less
dangerous for older people than for people who are young or middle aged.
While he acknowledges that the idea has its detractors, Blair points out
that other studies have also shown this to be the case.
"I don't want to sound like an apologist for obesity," he tells
WebMD. "But in older people it is not as important a determinant of
mortality as it is in younger people."
Age, Obesity, and Fitness
The newly reported study included 2,603 people in their 60s and older
followed for an average of 12 years.
All the participants received detailed health examinations upon study entry,
as well as the exercise fitness test and measurements of their body mass index (BMI), waist
size, and body fat.
The 20% of participants who performed worst on the treadmill test were
considered least fit. Men fell into this category if they could remain on the
treadmill for no longer than 7.8 minutes. For women the cutoff was 5.5
Age, low fitness level, and having multiple risk factors for heart and
vascular disease at study entry were all found to be independently associated
with death risk among study participants.
Better fitness was associated with less likelihood of diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Death rates
for those with the highest fitness levels were less than half that of those who
were physically unfit.
But being overweight and even obese was not an independent predictor of
Among people who were fit, survival rates were similar for normal weight,
overweight, and obese people.
Blair points out that 46% of the people in the study with a BMI of 35 and
over (considered extremely obese, by most estimates) did not fall into the
lowest or even second lowest fitness categories.
Exercise Linked to Longer Survival
The study is not the first to find fitness among the elderly to be one of
the best predictors of survival.
In research reported in 2006, Anne B. Newman, MD, MPH, and colleagues from
the University of Pittsburgh found an inability to walk 400 meters, or about a
quarter of a mile, to be associated with an increased risk of death in people
between the ages of 70 and 79.