A new study offers some encouragement to people who are overweight, particularly for those over the age of 60. The study suggests that fitness matters more than extra weight in terms of overall health and longevity. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.

Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise can do wonders for people's health.

It lowers blood pressure, reduces levels of bad cholesterol and may even slow progression of some neurological diseases.

It seems that at least some older people have already gotten the word about fitness.

Warren Hughes has big reasons for exercising. She explains, "I want to be able to stay active and I want not to be confined in any way and live longer."

Other older adults echo Hughes. Bernard Solomon is 83. He exercises to help his heart. "What do I notice? I can do it. That's what I notice," he said.

Caroly Wilcox exercises to help fight her osteoporosis. She feels, "I'm stronger, got more stamina."

Experts in weight loss and obesity, such as Dr. Louis Aronne, agree that older people need to focus more on fitness. "We know that it is critical for older people to maintain their muscle mass and to maintain adequate nutrition stores," Aronne said. 

Researchers followed 2,600 people over the age of 60 and found that those who were overweight but fit are more likely to live longer than their slimmer but less fit peers.

Dr. Steven Blair at the University of South Carolina led the study and explains, "Even in individuals who were fat, indeed even in people who were obese, if they were fit, they did not have a higher risk of dying."

And just how much exercise makes a person physically fit? Dr. Blair says if you do 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week, you are considered fit, whatever your weight.

And people who do more have a lower death rate.

"As a 68-year old fat man, I'm still running 25 miles a week," says Dr. Blair.

He adds, people who are severely obese do have higher death rates, but in general, fitness means living longer.

Some video courtesy of the Journal of the American Medical Association