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Fitness cuts death risk in older men with high blood pressure

Exercise cut risk of death by up to 48%, shows study

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Older men with high blood pressure can lower their risk of death by as much as 48% by taking moderate exercise, according to a new study* published by the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension.

Researchers from Washington, US, found that the fittest of elderly men they studied were half as likely to die as the least fit.

For the study, researchers assessed the fitness status of 2,153 men aged 70 years and older with high blood pressure between 1986 and 2012 by using a standard treadmill exercise test with follow ups over an average of nine years.

The team applied the international units used to measure fitness, called metabolic equivalents (METs), to determine the men’s peak fitness levels.

The study participants were categorised as very low fitness, low fitness, moderate fitness, and high fitness.

The peak MET level of a sedentary 50-year-old is about five to six METs, while for a moderately fit individual, it is about seven to nine METS, and a highly fit person, it is 10 to 12 METs.

After the follow-ups, the researchers found that the risk of death fell by 11% for every MET unit increased through doing more exercise.

The least fit members of the high fitness group, exercising at 8 METs, reduced their risk of death by up to 48%.

For those in the low fitness category, who exercised between 4.1 and 6 METs, it fell by 18%, while moderately fit men (6.1 to 8 peak METs) had a 36% lower risk of death.

Dr Peter Kokkinos, senior author and professor at Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Georgetown University School of Medicine and George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said: “Although this does not sound like a big drop in the death rate, the impact of it is revealed when we compared low, moderate and high-fit individuals to the least fit, who achieved less or equal to four METs.

“For every 100 people who died in the least-fit category, 82 died in the low-fit, 64 in the moderate-fit and 52 in the high-fit categories. The death rate is cut in half for those in the highest fitness category.”

Dr Charles Faselis, lead author of the study and chief and professor of medicine at George Washington University, added: “This level of [moderate] fitness is achievable by most elderly individuals engaging in a brisk walk of 20 to 40 minutes, most days of the week.”

Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Although this is a study of older men with high blood pressure, it confirms the importance of physical activity to our quality of life however old we are.”

* Charles Faselis, Michael Doumas, Andreas Pittaras, et al. Exercise Capacity and All-Cause Mortality in Male Veterans With Hypertension Aged ≥70 Years. Published online before print May 12, 2014. doi: 10.1161/​HYPERTENSIONAHA.114.03510

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