A twenty-five year-long study of more than 2,357 men has found five significant behaviors that, barring genetic or environmental factors out of our control, play major roles in life expectancy to ninety years and beyond. These five key behaviors also contribute to vastly improved late-life function, which is the main goal of any anti-aging program.
Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the study discovered how non-genetic determinants of exceptional longevity are accessible and achievable by ordinary people who are serious enough about anti-aging to take matters into their own hands.
The 2,357 men, all healthy at the beginning of the study in 1981, had a mean age of 72. Throughout the study, mortality, incidences of major diseases, biological and lifestyle factors and comorbid conditions were monitored. (‘Comorbid’ is a term applied to a disease or disorder that occurs at the same time as another disease condition. For example, there are a number of health problems that are comorbid with obesity.)
By 2006 when the study ended, 970 of the men — 41% — had survived to at least 90, some even longer. After all the variables were factored in, five common adverse factors were found to be at the top of the lists as the major contributors to shortened lives and reduced quality of life in later years — or, in the absence of these factors, the leading factors that prolonged active lives:
4. Hypertension (high blood pressure)
5. Sedentary life style (lack of exercise)
Smoking was strongly associated with increased risk of mortality before age 90, and seriously reduced quality of life as the years marched on. On the other hand, regular exercise was associated with a nearly 30% lower mortality risk than those who didn*t exercise. The probability of a 90-year life span for someone aged 70 in the absence of all five risky behaviors — smoking, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and sedentary lifestyle — was 54%. Not bad odds, when you consider that all five of these are pretty much under our control. The chances for a longer, healthier life to age 90 and beyond for a 70 year-old dropped to between 22% and 36% when only two adverse factors were present, and was negligible with all five present.
Compared with nonsurvivors, the study found, men with exceptional longevity had a healthier all-round lifestyle, had a lower incidence of chronic diseases, and were 3 to 5 years older at the onset of any disease.
At least as important, they enjoyed better late-life physical functioning and mental well-being. More than 68% rated their late-life health as excellent or very good, and less than 8% reported fair or poor health. Regular exercise was associated with significantly better late-life physical functioning than smokers and those who were overweight. And get this — smoking was also associated with a significant reduction in mental function.
Healthy behaviors — decisions that we can make any time in our lives — really do make a difference according to this study. And it’s never too late, because even if we don*t clean up our acts until we*re getting on in years, the body’s ability to heal and strengthen is remarkable. Quitting smoking might be the toughest to control, but there are a plenty of programs, patches, pills, and even inexpensive stop-smoking supplements that can help.
So the jury is in, and there’s no more room for debate. Not smoking, managing our weight and blood pressure, and taking regular exercise — which plays a big part in controlling weight, blood pressure and diabetes — are all associated not only with a longer life span, but also with better health and more strength and agility during old age. Even better, these are things that anyone can do if he wants to, and at zero financial cost — in fact, these five actions will save an incalculable amount of money. What more could someone seeking an anti-aging regimen ask for?
Rod Mac Taggart
Author, Rod MacTaggart, contributes articles on anti-aging and health for Feel Good For Life. More information on these and other topics can be found at http://www.feelgoodforlife.com.