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Fitness Cuts Men's Death Rate

Exercise Test May Trump Age, Heart Disease at Predicting Men's Mortality
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 22, 2008 -- The fittest men tend to live the longest, regardless of age or history of heart disease, a new study shows.

The researchers' advice: Start and maintain "a physically active lifestyle consisting of moderate-intensity activities (brisk walking or similar activities)."

Of course, it's best to check in with a doctor first, if you have been on the sidelines for a while.

The new study appears in today's rapid access online edition of Circulation.

Men's Fitness Test

Data came from exercise tests taken by more than 15,000 U.S. male veterans (average age: 58-60).

During the test, the men exercised until they were too tired to keep going -- without hanging onto the treadmill's handrails. Most of the men proved to be moderately fit. Highly fit men ranked second, followed by men in the low fitness category. Relatively few men were in the "very high" fitness category.

The researchers also noted the men's age, blood pressure, history of heart attack, BMI (body mass index, which relates height to weight), and other factors.

The men were followed for 7.5 years. During that time, some 3,900 men died, with an average annual death rate of about 3%.

Fitter Men, Longer Lives

The fittest men were the least likely to die during the study.

Performance on the exercise test was the best predictor of mortality, followed by age and heart disease. In other words, fitness mattered more than the men's age or heart history.

Compared to men with a low level of fitness, death rates were 50% lower for highly fit men and 70% lower for men in the "very fit" category.

The study has some limits. The men weren't assigned to exercise, and they weren't retested as the study progressed. So it's not clear if they became more or less fit as time passed.

Fitter men may also have had other traits working in their favor, though the VA's Peter Kokkinos, PhD, and colleagues considered many factors in weighing the data.

It's not clear if the findings apply to women. But reams of research show benefits from fitness for both sexes.

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