Taking statin medication or being somewhat in shape physically can significantly improve survival in people with dyslipidaemia, (irregular levels of dangerous cholesterol/blood fats). The combination of these two methods may be more effective in eliminating death than either intervention alone, suggests a new study published in The Lancet.

Surprisingly, the study revealed that even people with dyslipidaemia who do not take statins, but are physically fit, were about half as likely to expire from any cause during the median 10-year follow up, than those who were taking statins, but were not physically healthy.

Most frequently prescribed to treat high cholesterol and lower risks for heart disease, statins have historically been linked to many advantageous results. Recent research has told us that patients using statins who were then diagnosed with cancer, actually have a 15 percent lower likelihood of dying from their cancer.

Peter Kokkinos from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington DC, who led the research, explains:

“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”

An estimated 71 million adults (33.5 percent) in the United States have raised levels of LDL-cholesterol, according to the Center for Disease Control. Dyslipidaemia is an essential factor to the prevalence of coronary heart disease.

Kokkinos and his team examined the records of over 10,000 veterans (9700 males and 343 females) with dyslipidaemia from Veteran Affairs hospitals in Palo Alto, California and Washington D.C.

Between 1986 and 2011, all participants underwent a standard exercise tolerance test to measure their exercise capability. They measured the highest metabolic rate (MET) reached while exercising, and then categorized fitness levels as least, moderate, fit, or high. After that, the volunteers were separated into two groups within each fitness level, those treated with statins and those treated without statins.

In total, 2,318 patients died. Mortality risk was 18.5 percent in those taking statins, and 27.7 percent in those not taking statins.

The investigators found that rates of death were lowest in those participants who took statins and were also in shape. The higher the level of fitness, the less the risk of dying at the 10 year median follow-up period. The most physically fit participants had a remarkably lower risk of death (60-70 percent), regardless of their statin intake.

The variations in risk of death could be accounted for by the following factors:

  • body mass
  • sex
  • ethnicity
  • history of cardiovascular disease
  • age
  • medications
  • risk factors for cardiovascular disease

Kokkinos recommends:

“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.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald