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Being unfit will kill you a lot faster than being fat.

That's the message that emerges from the latest study to explore the complex relationship between cardiovascular fitness, obesity and longevity.

The research, published in today's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that among adults over the age of 60, the more fit a person is, the longer they can expect to live.

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Notably, the fit adults outlived the unfit regardless of their level of obesity or waist size.

"We observed that fit individuals who were obese ... had a lower risk of all-cause mortality than did unfit normal-weight or lean individuals," said Xuemei Sui, a researcher in the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and lead author of the study.

She said the findings suggest that regular physical activity - such as 30 minutes of brisk walking daily - can influence longevity, even among older adults who are overweight or obese.

The study involved 2,603 adults aged 60 or older whose health was monitored between 1979 and 2001. Fitness was measured using a treadmill exercise test, and adiposity (fat) was assessed by body mass index, waist circumference and percentage of body fat.

There were 450 deaths during the study. Researchers found that those who died were older, had lower fitness levels and had more cardiovascular risk factors than survivors.

However, there were no significant differences in adiposity measures between those who lived and those who died.

Not surprisingly, study participants who were fit were less likely to have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

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Fifty-nine per cent of adults are overweight, including 23 per cent who are obese, according to Statistics Canada. Overweight is defined as having a BMI - an approximation of body fat based on height and weight - over 25, while obese means a BMI over 30.

Canada's physical activity guide suggests that adults should engage in 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking, and that children should be active for at least 90 minutes.

Fewer than one-third of Canadians meet those modest targets.

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About the Author
Public health reporter

André Picard is a health reporter and columnist at The Globe and Mail, where he has been a staff writer since 1987. He is also the author of three bestselling books.André has received much acclaim for his writing. More

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