Most of us have a goal of living to a “ripe old age” to enjoy retirement, perhaps travel, and have fun with grandchildren . The understood part of this wish is that we are living a healthier old age life and able to participate in the things we love. Few of us hope to spend our last years in a nursing home.
Table Of Contents
This is an “age-old” (pun intended) question — how to “live long and prosper .” Notwithstanding advances in medical science that may occur, much of this game plan is up to us.
We are drawn to advice from the very old (centenarians, and now “super centenarians,” those over 110 years old) . Some say they lived so long by having a shot of whiskey every day, or smoking a cigar daily .
This is actually music to some ears, as they seem to fly in the face of all the public health “do-gooders” who advise against habits that generally are not going to promote longevity . But what these wise old folks are probably not saying is that they always walked to work, or ate vegetables from their garden, and rarely had more than one glass of alcohol a day .
It’s all about balance. You may be able to get away with a few “vices” if you fill most of your life with healthy habits. But even those with exemplary lifestyles can still succumb to untimely deaths and, of course, your genetics play a role; it’s possible that those who are fit and healthy also have longevity in their family history.
Doctors do change preventive medicine advice depending on current research. For example, coffee: it has been good for you, bad for you, and now perhaps is in the good category again . Still, it makes sense to get behind winning ideas such as eating sensibly and staying active and, of course, avoiding any kind of substance abuse.
Humans have been pretty active since caveman days, right up to around 1900 when the “horseless carriage” began ever-increasing use. Labor-saving devices were invented, such as the washing machine . Wash day Monday no longer necessarily involved hauling water, scrubbing on a washboard, and hanging out laundry.
One recent study adds support to the reasonable idea that staying fit and living a healthier old age life during midlife may delay chronic diseases, leaving the later years more vibrant . Nearly 19,000 people who exercised on treadmills at a well-known clinic were followed for 26 years.
They were “self-selected” and not randomized – 79 percent were healthy, affluent white males – so this study may not apply to some ethnicities or socioeconomic classes . But the findings were clear.
Those who achieved higher MET levels, (an acronym for metabolic equivalents, which are used to measure fitness), during their treadmill testing; had a lower incidence of eight common chronic diseases later in life, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and Alzheimer’s.
Those men who were studied that fell into the lowest quarter of fitness (8 .5 METS) had a rate of 28.2 chronic diseases per 100 person-years. That’s one year in the life of 100 people, or 100 years in the life of one; compared to the most fit (14 .1 METS), who had 15 .6 cases of chronic disease per 100 .
For women, the numbers were even better, 20 .1 versus 28 .2 and 11 .4 versus 15 .6 . The researchers did “control” for factors such as weight (body mass index), cholesterol and glucose levels, blood pressure, age, and alcohol and drug use . They did not record dietary data . The very good news is increased fitness at middle age could reduce chronic diseases significantly by age 65 and older. Every improvement by one MET reduced disease by 5–6 percent .
As a reference, sitting on the sofa equals about one MET. Strolling is about 2–3 METS . If you are the proverbial couch potato you might achieve only “moderate intensity activities,” or 3–6 METS, while puffing away on a treadmill . Healthy, middle aged, but non-athletic people, may peak at 7–10, “vigorous intensity.”
Work out some and 9 METS may leave you winded but still going. Work out a lot and 9 becomes easier . Elite athlete or marathon runner? You might get over 20 METS.
These are approximate; measuring exact numbers requires specialized equipment. But many endurance machines in the gym can tell you about what MET level you are working.
It is never too late to start! Live a healthier life even at old age. Another study looked at fitness, good social network, and healthy lifestyle behaviors. Swedish researchers studied over 1,800 adults over 75 years of age for 18 years. The study included everyone within a certain area of Stockholm .
Even after age 75, lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity and not smoking, are associated with longer survival and living a healthier old age life. A low risk profile can add five years to women’s lives and six years to men’s . These associations, although attenuated, were also present among the oldest old (≥85 years) and in people with chronic conditions.
In conclusion, being fit is good, smoking is still bad for you, but having some alcohol daily—unless you cannot— seems to be OK . So, cheers! Go lace up those sneakers, put on dancing shoes or swim flippers (but not all at once), get active and stay healthy!
Sources: Metabolic equivalent . (2012, September 28) . In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Rizzuto D, et al . (2012) . Lifestyle, social factors, and survival after age 75: population-based study . BMJ. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e5568
Willis B, et al . (2012) . Midlife fitness and the development of chronic conditions in later life . Arch Intern Med. DOI: 10.1001/ archinternmed.2012.3400