The ten-year study of 10,000 US veterans found that the very fit were 60-70 per cent less likely to die than unfit people on statins.
However, it also found that combining statins with keeping fit could improve survival rates even further, the Daily Mail reported.
“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,” the paper quoted Professor Peter Kokkinos, who led the research at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington DC, as saying.
Kokkinos and his colleagues came to the conclusion after they assessed the records of 9,700 men and 343 women from Veterans Affairs hospitals in Washington DC and Palo Alto in California.
All had high cholesterol levels or other harmful blood fats and were tested to determine their exercise capacity as least, moderate, fit, or high.
The researchers found death rates were lowest among those taking statins and who were fit.
The higher the level of fitness the lower the risk of dying during the median follow-up period of ten years. The fittest participants, regardless of whether they were taking statins, had a 60-70 per cent lower risk of death.
The difference could not be explained by age, body mass, ethnicity, sex, history and risk factors of cardiovascular disease and medications, said the study published online in The Lancet.
“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,” said Professor Kokkinos.