The research found that fit pensioners over the age of 75 have mortality rates less than half those of unfit younger patients, following surgery.
Doctors have traditionally seen age as one of the main risk factor in operations, with older patients assumed to have a slower recovery time, a lower chance of survival and a higher risk of complications.
However, the three-year-study of almost 400 patients found that being physically fit before a procedure was far more important than the patient’s biological age.
Fit older people had a lower risk of dying, recovered better after surgery and had a shorter stay in hospital than unfit younger people, researchers found.
The study, published in the Annals of Surgery, involved 389 patients who underwent elective liver surgery at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.
Their fitness levels were assessed on bike tests before their operation and then their outcomes were monitored.
The best results were for fit patients below the age of 75, who had a mortality rate of 1 per cent. For those over 75 and fit the rate was 4 per cent – far lower than the 11 per cent death rate among younger patients who had been assessed as “unfit”.
The worst off group were unfit patients above the age of 75, who had a mortality rate of 21 per cent.
The study by Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust found that regardless of age, people who were physically unfit spent on average 11 days longer in hospital than those who were in better shape.