05 December 2007

Fitness, fatness and mortality

Fitness appears to be a more important determinant of older people's mortality risk than their belly size or overall fat, a new study shows.

Fitness appears to be a more important determinant of older people's mortality risk than their belly size or overall fat, a new study shows.

In a group of men and women 60 years of age or older, those who were very obese but fit were no more likely to die over the study's 12-year follow-up period than normal weight or thin people were, Dr Steven N. Blair of the University of South Carolina in Columbia and colleagues found. But being at normal weight didn't reduce a person's mortality risk unless he or she was fit.

Being active helps everyone
"Being active and fit is beneficial in terms of health no matter what your body size and shape," Blair told Reuters Health.

The way fitness, fatness and death risk relate in older people isn't fully understood, he and his colleagues note in the December issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. To better define how these factors interact, the researchers looked at 2 603 people 60 and older, all of whom completed a maximal exercise test of their cardiorespiratory fitness at the beginning of the study.

"We didn't just ask people whether they were active or not. We measured how fit they were," Blair said.

Being unfit increased a person's mortality risk no matter what weight category they fell into, the researchers found, while among fit individuals, being obese or even very obese didn't boost mortality risk.

While 94 percent of normal-weight people were fit, 46 percent of the most obese people, who had a body mass index of 35 or greater, were fit. People with a body mass index higher than 30 are considered obese. The normal range is 18.5 to 24.9.

What you need to do
All people need to do to become fit is to follow the standard guideline of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five times a week, Blair said, noting that people don't even have to get their half-hour of exercise all at once. "Three 10-minute walks five days a week will get you out of the unfit category as we've defined it," he said.

While the findings shouldn't be seen as minimising the health risks of obesity, Blair noted, getting out the word that excess weight is hazardous to health hasn't done much to help people trim down. Emphasising fitness, he added, may be a better approach.

"Bottom line - walk the dog every day even if you don't have one," said Blair. "Be active."

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, December 5, 2007. – (Reuters Health)

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December 2007


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