In the February 11, 2008, edition of the Wall Street Journal, an article was published indicating it was easier than one might think to live to be a 100 based on an editorial appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine (also dated Monday, February 11, 2008). Research showed that individuals with chronic conditions could live to be 100 as well, but how well?
Previously, most physicians assumed that living to 100 years of age was limited to those with no chronic illness. But a study in the medical journal indicated that doctors who aggressively treated elderly individual’s health problems benefited greatly.
Based on phone interviews and health assessments of more than 500 women and 200 men who had reached age 100, researchers at Boston University discovered that two-thirds of them did avoid age-related ailments, but the rest had developed age-related disease before reaching 85 including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Surprisingly, many of these individuals with chronic diseases functioned remarkably well.
So what seemed to be the secret? Other than receiving proper medical treatment, lifestyle seemed to make the most difference. Avoiding smoking, obesity, and inactivity greatly improves the chances of living longer and being more productive. Certainly genetics plays a role, as well as luck, but taking responsibility for one’s health improves the chances of living longer than one would expect.
One Harvard University study of men in their 70s found that those avoiding smoking, obesity, inactivity, diabetes, and high blood pressure improved their chances by 54% of living into their 90s. Each one of these five risk factors reduced their chances of living longer and those with all five only had a 4% chance of living into their 90s. Notice that these risk factors are lifestyle related and usually controllable.
Many of us fear living too long with a disabling chronic condition, where again our lifestyle decisions are critically important – this is good news for health and active living. The lesson is that it is never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle, to stop smoking, to lose weight, and to exercise – this too is good news. The best news is that we do have control over our health increasing our odds of having a full and productive life.