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Fitness points to growing old

FOR older people, fitness may be more informative than traditional, cardiovascular risk factors.

Researchers have uncovered one more reason to get off the couch and start exercising, especially if you’re approaching your golden years. Among people over age 70, physical fitness was found to be a much better predictor of survival than the number of traditional cardiovascular risk factors.

While high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking are closely linked with a person’s chance of developing heart disease, these factors are so common in older people that the total number of risk factors becomes almost meaningless for predicting future health.

A new study suggests doctors can get a better picture of older patients’ health by looking at how fit they are, rather than how many of these cardiovascular risk factors they have.

“We found that fitness is an extremely strong risk predictor of survival in the older age group. Regardless of whether you are otherwise healthy or have cardiovascular risk factors, being fitter means you’re more likely to live longer than someone who is less fit,” said Seamus P. Whelton, Assistant Professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the US, and the study’s lead author. “This finding emphasises the importance of being fit, even when you’re older.”

Doctors use cardiovascular risk factors to help guide decisions about preventative measures and medications. Previous studies have shown that quitting smoking and controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes can reduce heart disease risk.

However, most studies of cardiovascular risk factors have focused on middle-aged people, leaving a knowledge gap regarding the importance of these risk factors in older people. The team analysed medical records from more than 6,500 people aged 70 years and older, who underwent an exercise stress test at a medical centre, between 1991 and 2009.

They assessed fitness, based on patients’ performance during the exercise stress test, which required patients to exercise on a treadmill as hard as they could.

On average, participants were 75 years old when they underwent the stress test. Researchers tracked the patients for an average of just under 10 years, during which time 39% of them died. Over this period, the researchers found higher fitness was associated with significantly increased rates of survival.

The fittest individuals were more than twice as likely to be alive 10 years later, compared with those who were least fit. In contrast, a patient’s total number of cardiovascular risk factors was not associated with their risk of death, and patients with zero risk factors had essentially the same likelihood of dying as those with three or more risk factors.

Whelton said the findings demonstrate that fitness level is an important indicator of an older patient’s health that doctors could benefit from considering more often. While an exercise stress test using a treadmill or stationary bicycle provides the most precise way to measure fitness, doctors can also get a general idea of a patient’s fitness level by asking about their exercise routine.

“Assessing fitness is a low-cost, low-risk and low-technology tool that is under-utilised in clinical practice for risk stratification,” he said.

The study did not account for any changes in fitness level that the participants may have experienced over time. However, previous studies have suggested that improving fitness can help improve heart health, even late in life.

“People who aren’t exercising or are sedentary would benefit from starting a routine of moderately-intense exercise, though they should talk with their doctor first,” Whelton said.

 

 

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Posted by on Apr 5 2019. Filed under Health & Beauty. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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