Being physically fit is more important than losing weight, when it comes to reducing death risks, a new study has suggested.
In a study of 14,345 adult men, mostly white and middle or upper class, researchers found that maintaining or improving fitness was associated with a lower death risk even after controlling for Body Mass Index (BMI) change.
Every unit of increased fitness (measured as MET, metabolic equivalent of task) over six years was associated with a 19 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke-related deaths and a 15 percent lower risk of death from any cause.
Becoming less fit was linked to higher death risk, regardless of BMI changes.
“This is good news for people who are physically active but can’t seem to lose weight,” said Duck-chul Lee, the study’s lead researcher.
“You can worry less about your weight as long as you continue to maintain or increase your fitness levels.”
According to the researchers, results of the study underscore the importance of physical inactivity as a risk factor for death from heart disease and stroke.
Researchers also found no association between changes in body fat percentage or body weight and death risk.
Participants, who were an average 44 years old, were part of the long-term, large-scale Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. They underwent at least two comprehensive medical exams.
Researchers used maximal treadmill tests to estimate physical fitness (maximal METs), and height and weight measurements to calculate BMI.
They recorded changes in BMI and physical fitness over six years. After more than 11 years of follow-up, researchers determined the relative risks of dying among men who lost, maintained or gained fitness over six years.
The study has been published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.