Monday, January 23, 2017

A healthy life style is important as we age

Leading a healthy lifestyle not only extends one's lifespan, but it also shortens the time that is spent disabled - a finding that had previously eluded public health scientists and demonstrates the value of investing in healthy lifestyle promotion, even among the elderly.

In an earlier post, I referred to a study called Healthy Life Expectancy (pdf file) that shows that living longer does not guarantee people will be fit enough to work into old age.

I talked about the stats that show many of us, while living longer, spend many of those years in poor health. New research shows that we can change this pattern. An analysis of a quarter century of data by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and their colleagues nationwide revealed that older adults with the healthiest lifestyles could expect to spend about 1.7 fewer years disabled at the end of their lives, compared to their unhealthiest counterparts. The study results are online and scheduled for the October issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

If we spend less time in poor health, this will have enormous personal and societal implications, ranging from quality of life to health care costs. By staying healthy, by exercising and by eating properly so our overall heath improves thus improving our lifestyle we may postpone both our own death and disability, but it may mean less time in poor health at the end of our life.

The researchers examined data collected by the Cardiovascular Health Study, which followed 5,888 adults from Sacramento County, Calif.; Forsyth County, N.C.; Washington County, Md.; and Allegheny County, Pa., for 25 years. All of the participants were aged 65 or older and were not institutionalized or wheelchair-dependent when they enrolled.

The participants reported or were assessed for various lifestyle factors, including smoking habits, alcohol consumption, physical activity, diet, weight and their social support system. The researchers took into account and adjusted results for such factors as participants' age, sex, race, education, income, marital status and chronic health conditions.

Across all the participants, the average number of disabled years directly preceding death - years when the person had difficulty eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, getting out of bed or a chair, or walking around the home - averaged 4.5 years for women and 2.9 years for men, which is inline with the world wide data.

For each gender and race group, those with the healthiest lifestyle (those who were non-smokers of a healthy weight and diet and getting regular exercise) not only lived longer, but had fewer disabled years at the end of their lives. For example, a white man in the healthiest lifestyle group could expect to live 4.8 years longer than his counterpart in the unhealthiest group, and at the end of his life, he'd likely spend only two of those years disabled, compared to 3.7 years for his unhealthy counterpart.

Put another way, that man's healthy lifestyle has given him nearly three more years of active life free of disability than his unhealthy counterpart, who not only died earlier but spent the last three-and-a-half years of his life disabled - a larger percentage of those remaining years.

So the bottom line for me is to invest and take the time to maintain a healthy lifestyle and encourage my friends and other people to maintain healthy behaviors into old age. The results of this survey indicate that as seniors we need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Being healthy may allow to reduce risk of being disabled for a longer period when you are near the end of life.

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