By raising their fitness levels, senior citizen athletes can lower both their cholesterol and blood pressure levels, according to a study conducted at the World Senior Games in St. George by a Brigham Young University health professor.

Dr. Steven Heiner measured the blood pressure and cholesterol levels of nearly 400 male and female athletes, ranging in age from 50 to 87, who participated in the 10-day senior citizens sports festival last October."Cholesterol and blood pressure levels are important factors in cardiovascular mortality," Heiner said. "The average blood cholesterol for the participants was 186, well below the national average for all ages."

Comparatively, 75 percent of the adult population age 65 and older will have cholesterol levels of over 200, placing them in the moderate risk category, while 25 percent of the general adult population has levels exceeding 240, placing them at high risk for heart disease.

"Only 18 percent of the participants in the Games had cholesterol levels above 200," he said. "The lowest cholesterol level was 125, recorded for a 76-year-old man."

The World Senior Games study also found that only 15 percent of the senior citizen athletes had blood pressure readings in the moderately high range, above 140/90, or reported taking medication to lower their blood pressure.

"In comparison, 50 out of 100 people between the ages of 45 and 75 will have blood pressure readings above 140/90 or will be taking anti-hypertensive medication," Heiner said.

The average blood pressure reading among participants was 129/77. The study also found no significant differences in terms of the education, religion, sex and marital status of the participants and their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The key factor in the participants' higher levels of cardiovascular health was fitness, Heiner said.