Older men who take statins to combat high cholesterol are less likely to exercise regularly, a new study has found.

Researchers in Oregon have raised fears about a decline in physical activity among men who take the medication - one of the most widely prescribed in the world.

Statins are credited with saving thousands of lives a year by preventing heart attacks and strokes. The study could not pinpoint why men who took statins exercised or not. Rather, they confirmed a link between those that take the drug and a lack of physical activity.

Scientists said possible causes could include muscle pain that can be a side effect of taking statins.

Lead author of the study, David Lee, an assistant professor in the Orgeon State University and the Oregon Health and Science College of Pharmacy, said: ‘Physical activity in older adults helps to maintain a proper weight, prevent cardiovascular disease and helps to maintain physical strength and function.

‘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 said five to 30 per cent of people who take statins complain of suffering muscle pain, while some report feeling less energetic, weak or tired. In a study of 3,071 men aged 65 or older, from six geographic regions in the U.S., researchers found that men who took statins averaged about 40 minutes less of moderate physical activity over a one-week period, compared to those who were not taking the medication.

Dr Lee said it would equate to the loss of 150 minutes a week of slow-paced walking. He said: ‘For an older population that’s already pretty sedentary, that’s a significant amount less exercise.

‘Even moderate amounts of exercise can make a big difference.’ The Oregon study also found that new statin users had the largest drop in physical activity.  An increase in sedentary behaviour, which is associated with all-cause mortality and death from cardiovascular disease, was also found in those taking the drugs.

‘Given these results, we should be aware of a possible decrease in physical activity among people taking a statin,’ Lee said. ‘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 study focused on older men and researchers highlighted it may not be pertinent to apply the same theory to older women. ;Last month an eminent British heart surgeon declared that everyone over the age of 40 should take cholesterol-busting statins. Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, who has carried out more heart transplants than anyone else, said the benefits of taking the controversial drugs ‘massively’ outweigh the risks and to not make them more widely available is ‘lunacy’. Sir Magdi, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Imperial College London, also believes statins should be available without a prescription.