May 15, 2014 / 3:35 PM / 5 years ago

Fitness linked to lower death risk in older men

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - No matter what age a man is, cardiovascular fitness may buy him more years of life, according to a new U.S. study of men over 70 with high blood pressure.

A fitness studio in a file photo. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Those who were able to push themselves the hardest during exercise had half the risk of dying of study participants who were the least fit, indicating the benefits of exercising are not limited to the young or middle aged, researchers said.

“The population is aging dramatically, so it’s important that we ask questions about patients who are older,” said Charles Faselis, lead author of the study and an internist at the Washington, DC, Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

In the study, published in the journal Hypertension, Faselis and his team looked at exercise tests previously performed for 2,153 men who were patients at the Washington, DC and Palo Alto, California VA Medical Centers.

All participants were at least 70 years of age and underwent the test either as part of a checkup or to see if the vessels in their hearts were clogged.

The men were split into four groups based on the highest level at which they could exercise. The categories were based on a unit of fitness known as metabolic equivalents, or METs.

The lowest category - “very-low fit” - comprised men who could achieve between two and four METs; “low-fit” were those who achieved 4.1 to six METs; and “moderate-fit” was between 6.1 and eight METs. The men in the best shape could achieve more than eight METs and were considered “high-fit.”

Faselis and his team took into account other factors that could affect the results, such as body mass index, heart disease and medications for heart disease. Researchers followed the men for an average of nine years to evaluate their risk of dying. During that time, about 1,000 of the participants passed away.

The study team found that compared to the men with the least ability to exercise (the very low-fit group), those in the next-highest category (low-fit) had an 18 percent lower risk of dying. The men who were moderately fit had a 36 percent lower risk of dying during follow-up, and the high-fit men had a 48 percent lower risk of death.

In other words, for every 100 people in the very low-fit category who would die, the high-fit group would have only 52 individuals die, said Peter Kokkinos, another author of the study and a researcher in cardiology at the Washington, DC, Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“As we go higher in fitness, we go lower in mortality risk and death rates,” Kokkinos told Reuters Health.

The researchers cannot say for certain that fitness prolonged some of the men’s lives, but after they adjusted for the possibility that sickness prevented some men from being able to exercise the link between METS and mortality still held.

Faselis and his team emphasized that being fit doesn’t mean running marathons or spending hours at the gym. In fact, people over age 70 with high blood pressure can lower their risk of dying by walking for about half an hour most days of the week, the researchers said.

“We aren’t asking people to do things that are out of this world” to get fitter, Faselis said.

That amount of walking is “very doable even in this elderly population,” he said.

Still, as with any new fitness regimen, it’s important to check with a healthcare provider before starting. As long as one’s doctor says it’s safe to start to exercise, it’s never too late to get going.

“It doesn’t matter what age you are - fitness works,” Kokkinos said.

“People think, ‘I’m 60, I’m over the hill.’ But it doesn’t matter,” he said. In fact, the oldest study participant was 92 years old, he told Reuters Health.

“Keep moving” if you’re already active, and if you’re not, then “get off the couch,” he said.

SOURCE: Hypertension, online May 12, 2014.

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