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Statins may lead to decline in physical activity among the elderly, researchers warn

Elderly men who take statins tend to take part in less physical activity than men the same age who do not take them, which could be related to muscle problems brought on as a side effect of the cholesterol-lowering drugs, US researchers have concluded.

In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, he researchers looked at activity levels in a seven-year study of over 3,000 men aged 65 years or older, of whom around a quarter were taking statins at baseline.

After taking into account differences in medical history and other potential confounding factors, they found new users of statins had a significantly faster decline in their physical activity over time than never-users – with their self-reported activity on the PASE (Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly) falling by an extra 0.9 points each year, on average.   

The team also found statin users averaged around 40 fewer minutes of moderate physical activity over a one-week period than non-users – as measured using accelerometers. This would equate to a difference of around 150 minutes of slow-paced walking each week.

The researchers concluded: ‘The possible reasons for lower physical activity levels in statin users may be general muscle pain caused by statins (a well-known adverse effect), exercise-induced myopathy, or muscular fatigue.’

Lead researcher Dr David Lee, from Oregon State University, said: ‘We’re trying to find ways to get older adults to exercise more, not less. It’s a fairly serious concern if use of statins is doing something that makes people less likely to exercise.’

He added: ‘Given these results, we should be aware of a possible decrease in physical activity among people taking a statin.

‘This could decrease the benefit of the medication. If someone is already weak, frail or sedentary, they may want to consider this issue, and consult with their doctor to determine if statin use is still appropriate.’

The findings come after GPs in the UK voiced concerns about NICE plans to reduce the lower risk threshold for primary prevention, potentially putting many more people – particularly the elderly who are most at risk simply because of their age – onto statins.

JAMA Intern Med 2014; available online 10 June