Fitness, Not Fat, Better Predictor of Health in Older Adults

by Joy Keller and Ryan Halvorson on Apr 01, 2008

Making News

Your older-adult client’s fitness level may be more important than his or her level of body fat, according to a study in the December 5 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (2007; 298 (21), 2507–16). The study found that people over age 60 who had higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness lived longer than unfit adults, independent of body fat.

Researchers examined the associations between cardiorespiratory fitness, various clinical measures of adiposity (body fat) and death in 2,603 men and women aged 60 or older (average age, 64.4 years; 19.8% women). Participants were enrolled in the Aerobics Center Long­itudinal Study and had completed a baseline health examination between 1979 and 2001. Researchers used a treadmill test to assess fitness; adiposity was measured by body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and percent body fat.

Participants who died (there were 450 deaths during an average follow-up of 12 years) were older, had lower fitness levels and had more cardiovascular risk factors than survivors. However, there were no significant differences in body fat measurements. Participants in the fitter groups were less likely to have cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol. Fit participants had lower death rates than unfit participants within each stratum of adiposity, except for two of the obesity groups. In most cases, death rates for fitter subjects were less than half the rates for those who were unfit.

“We observed that fit individuals who were obese (such as those with BMI of 30.0–34.9, abdominal obesity or excessive percent body fat) had a lower risk of all-cause mortality than did unfit, normal-weight or lean individuals,” the authors said in a press release. “Our data therefore suggest that fitness levels in older individuals influence the association of obesity to mortality. It may be possible to reduce all-cause death rates among older adults, including those who are obese, by promoting regular physical activity, such as brisk walking for 30 minutes or more on most days of the week.” 

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About the Authors

Joy Keller

Joy Keller IDEA Author/Presenter

Joy Keller is executive editor of IDEA Fitness Journal and IDEA Fit Business Success, and is also a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor, yoga teacher (RYT 200) and Reiki Master.

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson IDEA Author/Presenter

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor.