MOSCOW Russian President Vladimir Putin is in good health and a back injury that was reported last year is not a cause for concern, according to the Kremlin's top doctor.
In an interview which appeared intended to bolster Putin's image as his 61st birthday approaches in October, Sergei Mironov told Itogi magazine that the president stayed fit by playing sport and preferred using folk remedies to taking pills.
Putin, who plays ice hockey, swims, still enjoys judo and likes to portray himself to voters as energetic and macho, missed several foreign trips last year after what the Kremlin said was a sports injury.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said Putin had hurt his spine during a judo bout and government sources said at the time that Putin may have to undergo surgery. But Mironov said this was not the case.
"From the medical point of view, Putin seems significantly younger than his age," Mironov, the head of the presidential administration's Chief Medical Directorate, told Itogi in the interview published on Monday.
"(He) is rather skeptical when it comes to taking medicine, even if it is just common anti-cold pills," he said. "He prefers folk remedies, tea with lemon, sauna and massage."
"Swimming, in my view, is his preferred way to recover and adapt to stressful situations," he added.
Russia has not dropped the Soviet tradition of treating the health of its leaders as little less than a state secret but Mironov said this was for medical reasons.
"I see no reason to keep the leader's health a secret but there's medical ethics," he said.
The health of the president is a sensitive matter because the head of state is also commander in chief of the armed forces and in charge of Russia's nuclear arsenal.
Putin has, however, also been trying to reassert his authority following protests last year against his long rule that have been led by a younger generation of opposition leaders.
He has carved out a political system where power is concentrated in the hands of the president, and the poor health of President Boris Yeltsin, a drinker who had heart surgery while in power in the 1990s, alarmed foreign investors.
Before that, the Soviet Union carefully managed news about the health of its ageing leaders. Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, like Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin before them, all died while in power.
Mironov was also the Kremlin physician when Yeltsin was president but said he had a "totally different relationship" with Putin because he was healthier.
Putin has not said whether he will seek another six years as president when his current term ends in 2018.
But asked whether now was the age for political leaders who could live a long time, Mironov said: "With sport and the achievements of modern medicine, there's no doubt about it."
(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Michael Roddy)