Thursday, February 28, 2008

Healthy elderly lifestyle key to longer life

You're never too old to reap the benefits of a healthful lifestyle, according to researchers who found that doing things like exercising and not smoking at age 70 greatly raises one's chances of living to age 90.

The researchers focused on what people can do in their early elderly years to live longer while maintaining good health and physical function -- a vital issue as the population ages in the United States and many other countries.

For 25 years, they tracked about 2,400 male doctors whose average age was 72 when they entered the study in the early 1980s.

Those who exercised two to four times per week, did not smoke, maintained normal body weight and blood pressure, and avoided diabetes had a 54 percent chance of living to 90.

Doing any one or combination of them also were beneficial. But men who did none of them had only a 4 percent chance of reaching age 90, the researchers reported on Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"This isn't surprising so much as it's reassuring," said Dr. Laurel Yates of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, who led the study.

"All of these factors are considered common sense -- good medical management -- in terms of emphasizing: don't smoke, let's do blood pressure control and weight management, and do exercise," Yates said in a telephone interview.


Yates said the lifestyle message commonly has been aimed at middle-aged people, so it is helpful to see that such lifestyle factors can also help the elderly add healthy years.

"Lifestyle changes are the hardest ones to make. It's a lot easier to take a pill. So the onus is on an individual," Yates said. "If you're going to ask what's the one thing that I could do, I would say do two things: don't smoke and do exercise."

The researchers also found that the men who lived to at least 90 enjoyed better physical function and mental well-being late in their lives than men who died at a younger age.

Yates said research has shown that genetics counts for only about 25 to 30 percent in determining how long people live, with other factors playing a bigger role.

"Most people would say they don't want to have extra years added to their life if those years are going to be ones of disability and disease. And I think it is reassuring that there is something a person can do to help increase the probability of having extra years that are good ones," Yates said.

Another study in the same journal, led by Dr. Dellara Terry of Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, looked at 523 women and 216 men age 97 or older.

Terry's team found that about a third of these people got to this advanced age despite having developed age-associated disease before age 85 such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease or stroke.

Other recent research has quantified how certain behaviors affect longevity. British researchers who tracked 20,000 people said last month those who exercised, avoided smoking, drank moderately and ate lots of fruit and vegetables lived 14 years longer on average than people who did none of these things.


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