Fitness and statins – a double whammy that does you good

By Lesley Dobson , Friday 30 November 2012

A new study shows that exercise is a vital part of staying healthy, with and without statins.
Man playing tennisA new study reveals that a combination of exercise and statins can lead to a longer life

Good physical fitness can cut your risk of premature death more effectively than taking statins, according to a study just published Online First in The Lancet.

However, combining statins and physical fitness may be better at helping you live longer than either following either approach on its own.

Clinical trials have shown that taking statins reduces the rate of illness and death in people with coronary heart disease.

Studies have also shown that being fit reduces the risk of illness and death in patients with cardiovascular disease.

Up until now, though, little work has been carried out on the benefits of combining fitness and statins.

Professor Peter Kokkinos, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington DC, USA and colleagues studied the records of over 10,000 US veterans with dyslipidaemia (see below for definition). They were mainly men (9,700) but some women too (343), whose fitness levels were tested at around the age of 59.

The veterans were then classified, according to their fitness levels, as least, moderate, fit or high. Researchers then further subdivided the people in each fitness category into two groups, those taking statins and those not on statins.

In the ten year follow-up period 2,318 of the participants died.

The study confirmed previous findings that taking statins, and being physically fit, taken as separate approaches, reduced the risk of dying prematurely for people with dyslipidaemia.

However, the death rates were lowest for the physically fit participants who were taking statins. And the fitter they were, the lower their risk of dying during the 10-year follow-up.

A striking result was that the fittest people in the study had a 60 to 70% lower risk of dying, from any cause, whether they were taking statins or not.

“The fitness necessary to attain protection that is much the same, or greater, than that achieved by statin treatment in unfit individuals is moderate and feasible for many middle-aged and older adults through moderate intensity physical activity such as walking, gardening and gym classes,” says Professor Kokkinos, who led the research.

He went on to recommend “individuals with dyslipidaemia should improve their fitness to at least a moderate level. Treatment with statins is important, but better fitness improves survival significantly and is a valuable additional treatment or an alternative when statins cannot be taken.”

Pedro Hallal from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil and I-Min Lee from Harvard Medical School in the USA, state in a Comment piece in the same issue of The Lancet that the prescription of physical activity should be placed on a par with drug prescription. They wrote: “The cost of becoming physically active is lower than that of buying drugs and moderate intensity physical activity has fewer side-effects.”

Natasha Stewart, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said: “Both statins and exercise can help combat high blood cholesterol levels and look after your heart. However, this research shows that the two together can provide a winning combination to further improve your heart health, with higher intensity exercise possibly offering more protection.

“If you have high cholesterol, make sure you speak to your doctor about the best treatment regime to keep your heart healthy.”

If you do no or very little physical exercise at the moment, or have a medical condition, talk to your GP or specialist before starting or increasing your exercise routine.

*(The term dyslipidaemia covers high blood cholesterol and triglyceride level (hyperlipidaemia), high levels of the low density (or bad) lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol), and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol).

Useful websites

British Heart Foundation -

NHS Choices -

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.


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