Fit Beats Fat for a Longer Life
Obesity Has Lesser Influence on Death Rates in Older People, Study shows
WebMD News Archive
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.
Newman tells WebMD that while fitness appears to be a more important
predictor of survival in older people than weight, many unanswered questions
remain, such as why obesity appears less dangerous in this age group than in
"It may be that that the diseases associated with obesity, such as
diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease, are already
evident by late middle age," she says.
Because it was also not clear how long the obese people in the study had
been overweight, she adds that their improved survival may not reflect the
dangers of a lifetime of obesity.
"People definitely don't need an excuse to gain weight," she tells
WebMD. "But we have found that heavier older people do not appear to be as
Blair says public health messages aimed at keeping older people healthy
should focus more on physical activity and less on weight loss.
Walking or engaging in similar exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week
is enough for older people to achieve moderate physical fitness, he says.
"The message these days is that obesity is the worst public health
crisis we've ever faced," he says. "If physical activity gets
mentioned, it is usually thrown in as an afterthought. But our research over
the last dozen years, including this study, shows that physical activity and
fitness play a big role in health."