Exercise sharply cuts older men's death rate: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Older men who were classified as “highly fit” died at half the rate of those who were not fit in a major long-term study, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

The study of more than 15,000 U.S. military veterans is one of the largest yet to show that exercise extends lives regardless of race or income.

Researchers said it also offers a rare look at the benefits of exercise in blacks, about whom information on exercise benefits has been lacking.

“The message here is exercise works on anybody, regardless of race or income,” said Peter Kokkinos, director of the Exercise Testing and Research Lab at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington.

The study covered 6,749 black men and 8,911 white men between 50 and 70 who took standardized treadmill tests between May 1983 and December 2006.

The men were encouraged to exercise until they were tired, unless they showed signs of heart problems. They were monitored for an average of 7.5 years. The study controlled for factors of income and access to healthcare.

The men were grouped into fitness categories such as “low fit”, “moderately fit”, “highly fit” and “very highly fit” based on their capacity for exercise.

The researchers found that black and white middle-aged and older men who were deemed “highly fit” in a treadmill test died at half the rate as those who had low fitness scores.

Men who were “very highly fit” had a 70 percent lower risk of death during the study as those in the “low fit” category.

Kokkinos said achieving the “highly fit” level would not require a personal trainer or a gym membership.

“All you need is between two and three hours of brisk walking a week. You can spread that out between four and six days a week,” said Kokkinos, whose research appears in the journal Circulation.

Kokkinos said 30 minutes of brisk walking 5 to 6 days a week would be enough to push an older or middle-aged man from the “low fit” to the “very highly fit” category in a matter of months.

Editing by Stuart Grudgings