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Sharp decline in fitness in over- 45s

Zone default image Lifestyle changes help keep you young

It may come as no surprise that men and women become less fit as they grow older, but new research has found that this process accelerates after the age of 45.

Researchers from the University of Houston, Texas, studied 3,429 women and 16,889 men aged 20 to 96 between 1974 and 2006. During this time, participants underwent fitness tests, health assessments and were given lifestyle advice.

Although fitness levels were found to drop continuously over time, the results showed this did not happen at a steady rate. After the age of 45, cardiorespiratory fitness declined faster. The decline for men was greater than for women.

But it's not all bad news. The results also showed “that being active, keeping a normal BMI and not smoking" were associated with substantially higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness during the adult life span studied.

“Being inactive and having a high BMI were associated with a lower age at which an individual could be expected to reach threshold cardiorespiratory fitness levels associated with substantially higher health risks.”

In effect, a high BMI and smoking could lead to the same level of cardiorespiratory fitness which would be seen in an older but healthier person. The opposite could also be true.

Dr Andrew Jackson, who led the study, said: "The data showed that if people had the advantage when they were in their 30s and 40s and maintained that lifestyle, their aerobic capacity as they aged was in fact higher.

"It could delay the age when these health problems start to spring up. If people are very overweight, inactive and smoke, they might see these health problems in their 50s and 60s, whereas people who maintain a healthy lifestyle, it's going to be more like their 70s, 80s and possibly even their 90s."

This article was published on Tue 27 October 2009

Image © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

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