Exercise is Very Important as We Age

When it comes to living longer, a new study suggests that physical activity is more important than weight as we age.  Ideally, all of us should be both slim and active, but this new study is a “light at the end of the tunnel” for so many who struggle with their weight as they age.

Exercise expert Steven Blair of the University of South Carolina and colleagues tracked about 2,600 people age 60 and up, examining how physical fitness and body fat affected their death rates over 12 years.  The study results are published in the December, 2007, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In short, the men and women who were fit, as judged by a treadmill test, but were overweight or obese had a lower mortality risk than those of normal weight but low fitness levels. 

Those in the lowest fifth in terms of fitness had a death rate four times higher than participants ranked in the top fifth for fitness.  The study showed that even a modest effort to improve physical activity can provide health benefits and lower mortality risk significantly. 

The findings are particularly relevant as people in the United States and many other countries live increasingly sedentary lifestyles and obesity rates remain high. At the same time, the populations are aging in many nations.

"If you're obese and unfit and you start taking three 10-minute walks a day and you do that at least five days a week, you're not going to lose an enormous amount of weight; you’re going to still be heavy. But you're going to be much healthier if you do that," Blair said. Blair also stressed the importance of a healthful diet including lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.