READING: If you're not fit in your 50s, your projected life span "is eight years shorter than if you are fit," WOW!


To Double the Odds of Seeing 85: Get a Move On

When It Comes to Longevity, Regular Exercise May Be the Most Potent
Weapon Against Disease


The leading edge of the baby boom generation turns 65 next year, which
means a new milestone looms on the horizon: age 85.

So what do boomers need to do not just to survive to 85, but to live
healthy lives into old age and not break the bank at the federal
Medicare program?

The most important strategy, according to the latest research to look
at the question, is to be physically active in middle age. “If you are
fit in mid-life, you double your chance of surviving to 85,” says
Jarett Berry, a cardiologist at University of Texas Southwestern
Medical Center in Dallas.

Put another way: If you’re not fit in your 50s, your projected life
span “is eight years shorter than if you are fit,” Dr. Berry says.

Dr. Berry’s findings, presented last week in San Francisco at the
American Heart Association’s annual epidemiology and prevention
conference, are based on an analysis of 1,765 men and women who had
physical examinations performed during the 1970s and 1980s at the
Cooper Institute, the Dallas-based birthplace of the aerobics
movement. They are a reminder that despite an array of effective drugs
and other medical advances, the front line for most of us in the
battle to prevent heart disease and survive into old age lies in
adopting healthy living habits.

The report also underscores the importance of physical activity in
maintaining overall health: Fitness even trumped smoking cessation in
the magnitude of benefit among participants in the study—though not by
much. The combination of being physically fit, not smoking and having
low blood pressure was a powerful predictor of longevity.

“It’s one more piece of data that says we all need to be moving in
America,” says Emelia Benjamin, professor of medicine and epidemiology
at Boston University School of Medicine, who wasn’t involved with the
study. “It’s pretty clear that Americans want to take a pill, but
we’re all going to be bankrupt unless people start taking on these
lifestyle changes.”

Certainly it’s well established that getting your heart rate up and
breaking a sweat on a regular basis is good for your health. But two
previous studies didn’t find an association between exercise and
longevity and a third turned up a relatively modest link.

Establishing a regular workout regimen remains elusive for many of us.
“On average, we tend to participate in less physical activity and be
less fit each year after about age 30,” says Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, a
cardiologist at Northwestern University in Chicago and senior
investigator on the longevity study.

National guidelines recommended Americans get at least 30 minutes of
moderate exercise five times a week or 20 minutes of intense physical
activity three times a week to maintain fitness. Twice-weekly
weight-training sessions to strengthen muscles are also advised.
National health survey data indicate about half of Americans report
meeting those guidelines, but Dr. Lloyd-Jones and other experts
believe it is far less than that.

People over age 85 are already the fastest growing segment of the U.S.
population, reflecting, among other things, a decline in smoking,
falling deaths from cardiovascular disease and success against
infectious diseases that once took a heavy toll among infants and

But aging for many means battles with arthritis, cancer,
cardiovascular disease and other chronic and costly maladies. A
burgeoning old-age population hobbled by illness would amount to an
enormous public health dilemma, with challenges ranging from improving
the quality of life of consumers to protecting the solvency of
Medicare and other health programs.

Researchers say getting control of a combination of risk
factors—including blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, smoking
and diet—is emerging as an especially effective way to improve health
and extend healthy longevity.

“If you make it to middle age with optimal risk numbers and healthy
behavior, you’ve essentially abolished your risk of cardiovascular
disease,” says Dr. Lloyd-Jones. “It becomes a fountain of youth for
your heart.”

Regular exercise results in lower blood pressure, healthier
cholesterol and lower blood sugar, Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, thus is an
especially potent weapon against disease.

The 1,444 men and 321 women involved in the new
survival-to-85-analysis were born before 1921. They were between ages
50 and 69 when had their initial physicals at the Cooper Institute,
during which they underwent a special treadmill test to measure their
aerobic capacity or cardio-respiratory fitness. Dr. Berry says this
objective assessment may help explain why fitness emerged as such a
significant factor in predicting longevity; previous studies relied on
participants to estimate their physical activity, which they typically

Blood pressure, smoking status and cholesterol were among traditional
risk factors measured. People were excluded from the study if they had
prior history of heart problems or cancer to provide a measure of
fitness in the absence of symptomatic disease. The analysis didn’t
assess whether participants maintained fitness levels after the
initial physical, nor did it include information on what medications
participants may have been taking.

By 2006, the year by which all participants could reach at least age
85, researchers said 906 or 63% of the men, and 238, or 74% of the
women were still alive. Dr. Berry and his colleagues separated the
participants into five equal groups according to fitness levels and
considered the lowest 20% as non-fit. Men were nearly 1.8 times as
likely to reach 85 if they were fit as opposed to non-fit; for women,
it was almost 2.2 times as likely.

One of the participants in the study, Ray C. Robbins, 89, who retired
as president and chief executive officer of Lennox International Inc.,
says he spends 30 to 45 minutes on a treadmill most days and another
20 minutes working weights to keep his upper body tuned. “And I don’t
object to an early-morning walk with my wife once in a while in the
neighborhood,” he says. He credits the institute’s prescription for a
regimented exercise routine for helping to keep him in good shape.

Another participant, Don McNelly, 89, Rochester, N.Y. says he has run
744 marathons during his life—though he now “walks” them. He currently
walks three to five miles a day at a shopping mall and awaits the
arrival of spring in upstate New York when he can return to the local
high-school track for his routine.

But such heroics aren’t necessary to get fit. In fact, studies suggest
the biggest benefit from exercise occurs when people go from a
sedentary lifestyle to getting regular moderate exercise. “The biggest
bang for your buck is just getting off the couch,” Dr. Berry says.

Activities that qualify as moderate intensity exercise include walking
at a brisk pace, mowing the lawn with a power mower, ballroom dancing
and doubles tennis, according to the American Heart Association and
the American College of Sports Medicine. Vigorous exercise options
include walking or jogging at 4.5 miles per hour or faster, playing
basketball a

nd cross-country skiing.

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