Worried about those few extra pounds in your mid-section? You may not have to be, provided you are otherwise fit, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina, Columbia found that adults over the age of 60 who are fit live longer than adults who are unfit, regardless of individual levels of body fat, according to a study in the Dec. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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For the study, Dr. Xuemei Sui of the University of South Carolina and colleagues examined the associations between cardiorespiratory fitness, various levels of body fat and death in older women and men.

The study included 2,603 adults age 60 years or older (average age, 64.4 years; 19.8 percent women) enrolled in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, who completed a health examination during over a 22-year period from 1979 to 2001.

Fitness was assessed by a treadmill exercise test and body fat was measured by body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and percent body fat. There were 450 deaths during an average follow-up of 12 years.

The researchers found that those who died were older, had lower fitness levels, and had more cardiovascular risk factors than survivors. However, there were no significant differences in body fat levels. Participants in the higher fitness groups were, for the most part, less likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension, diabetes, or high cholesterol levels.

Fit participants had lower death rates than unfit participants for each body fat group, except for two groups of participants classified as obese. In most instances, death rates for those with higher fitness were less than half of rates for those who were unfit.

"It may be possible to reduce all-cause death rates among older adults, including those who are obese, by promoting regular physical activity, such as brisk walking for 30 minutes or more on most days of the week, which will keep most individuals out of the low-fitness category," the authors wrote in their study.