Aging Wellness

Fitness promotes longevity: Study finds a brisk walk every day after age 70 determines health more than CVD risk

Senior citizens may prolong their lives by walking or riding a bike every day. Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that older adults with high physical fitness levels were more likely to live past 80. This was regardless of whether they have any cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.

The study suggested that fitness level can be a better predictor of an individual’s chance of living longer than the number of his or her CVD risk factors. This further emphasized the importance of staying fit, even when you’re older.

In this study, the researchers assessed the medical records of over 6,500 people aged 70 years and older. They measured the fitness levels of the senior citizens by having them work on a treadmill as hard as they could. They grouped the participants by how much energy they exerted during exercise: most fit, moderately fit, and least fit. They also grouped them by how many CVD risk factors they had: zero, one, two and three or more.

After an average follow-up of 10 years, 39 percent of the participants died. Over this period, the researchers found that a greater fitness level was linked to significantly higher rates of survival.

They found that the most fit participants were more than twice as likely to be alive 10 years later than the least fit individuals. They found that the number of CVD risk factors did not affect their risk of death and patients with zero risk factors had almost the same odds of dying as those with three or more risk factors.

“We found fitness is an extremely strong risk predictor of survival in the older age group — that is, regardless of whether you are otherwise healthy or have cardiovascular risk factors, being more fit means you’re more likely to live longer than someone who is less fit,” said Seamus P. Whelton, assistant professor of medicine and the lead researcher of the study.

The researchers suggested that using a treadmill or stationary bicycle provides the most accurate way to measure how physically fit a person is. Physicians can also get a general idea of an individual’s fitness level by asking them about their exercise routine. The team presented their study at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session. (Related: Are you really that fit? New study finds that we tend to overestimate how active we are.)

Mediterranean diet also helps seniors live longer

Aside from being physically fit, adhering to a healthy diet can help prolong the lives of the elderly. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggested that following the Mediterranean diet helps older adults live even longer.

The study was conducted by researchers at I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed Mediterranean Neurological Institute in Italy and it has two parts.

For the first part, the researchers followed 5,200 people aged 65 and older for about eight years to investigate the link between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and survival. They found that participants who followed a diet close to the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of death from all causes, coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular diseases and diseases not related to cancer or CVD.

For the second part of the study, the researchers examined six studies that linked the Mediterranean diet and mortality in older people. They added the data from those studies to data they had in the first part of the study. Overall, they evaluated 12,000 individuals. Analysis of pooled data showed similar results to the first part of the study. The closer a person adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the lower his or her mortality risk.

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