For older men, having a big belly is more
closely tied to general health problems than having low testosterone levels, a
new study suggests.
Researchers have known that obesity is
linked to lower testosterone among men. But it's been less clear how each of those
factors relates to men's well-being, Dr Marianne Andersen told Reuters Health
in an e-mail. She worked on the study at Odense University Hospital in Denmark.
In otherwise healthy men, an increased
waist may be more important for some aspects of quality of life than low
testosterone levels, as long as those low levels are still in the normal range,
For their study, Andersen and her colleagues
asked 598 Danish men ages 60 to 74 about their quality of life using a
questionnaire called the Short-Form 36, or SF-36. The questionnaire measures
general health, including ability to perform physical activities, pain,
vitality, social functioning and emotional and mental health.
The researchers also measured men's body
fat, including stomach fat, and testosterone levels. Four in ten were obese.
The analysis suggested men's waist size was
most closely tied to their quality of life – as waists grew, well-being
Testosterone, on the other hand, was
"only modestly" associated with quality of life, according to
findings published in Age and Ageing. "It is really no surprise that obese
men score worse than thin men on the SF-36," Dr Bradley Anawalt told
Reuters Health in an e-mail.
But, he said, that particular questionnaire
"is not designed to capture the quality of life issues that would relate
to testosterone and men's health." Anawalt is an endocrinologist at the
University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.
He was not involved in the new
research. "If you are a generally healthy man with low testosterone levels,
you will have a normal score on SF-36 because that questionnaire does not ask
questions about sexual function and it does not quantify strength, bone mass
and other organs or functions affected by testosterone," Anawalt said.
Get off the couch
Andersen said that's not just a problem
with the questionnaire her team used. "There is a general agreement that no
questionnaire may distinguish between patients with normal or low testosterone
levels," she said.
"Many men with normal testosterone
levels have bad scores and men with low testosterone levels have good
scores." That's in part because men don't necessarily feel different when
they have low bone mass, one of the symptoms of low testosterone, for instance.
Anawalt said it's essential for middle-aged
men who are sedentary, overweight and perhaps have slightly low or
low-to-normal testosterone to exercise regularly. Even a modest amount of weight
loss can improve their health and quality of life and will raise their
testosterone – or "T" – levels.
"On the brink of the Super Bowl when
hundreds of millions of men will spend hours eating, drinking and watching
pigskin leather being booted off of a tee, we need them to be focused on
getting off the couch and moving (more) than we need them to be asking 'Would I
feel better if I had a higher T level?'" Anawalt said.
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