Friday, August 29, 2008

Staying Healthy and Vigorous All Your Life

The headline on the story in the August 26 New York Times says it all: “Living Longer, in Good Health to the End.”

Isn’t that the way we all want it to be?

I think so. This article, by Jane E. Brody in the Times’ Personal Health column, is one of many I’ve seen lately offering encouragement that the final years of life don’t have to be a prolonged period of discomfort, distress and suffering.

“There is increasing evidence that the societal burden of increased longevity need not be so drastic,” says the article. “Long-term studies have shown that how people live accounts for more than half the difference in how hale and hearty they will remain until very near the end.”

Dr. James E. Fries of Stanford University in 1980 put forth the idea that good health and vigor can be extended well into a person’s 80s, and illness and disability can be compressed into a short period at the end of life.

Many studies have come to a consensus conclusion that genetic factors – such as the amount and proportion of HDL and LDL cholesterol in the blood – account for only about 35 percent of the length of a person’s life. The rest – roughly 65 percent – is determined by environmental factors.

It’s never too late to adopt habits that predict a healthy old age, according to Dr. Richard S. Rivlin, an internist and director of the nutrition and cancer prevention career development program at Weill Cornell College.

“While measures started early in life are most likely to have the greatest health benefit, older people should never feel that turning over a new leaf at their age is anything but highly effective,” he is quoted in Brody’s article.

He said people in their 70s can do a number of things to help prevent hypertension, heart disease, osteoporosis and even cancer. These include restricting calorie intake, limiting saturated fats, replacing simple sugars with fiber-rich whole grains, and eating plenty of high quality protein.

Another very important measure that people in their 70s can take to stay healthy is to make exercise a regular part of their daily lifestyle, including aerobic activities that elevate the heart rate, weight-bearing activities that strengthen muscles and bones, and stretching exercises that reduce stiffness and improve flexibility and balance.

Many long-term studies have pinpointed exercise as the single most potent predictor of healthy longevity, in women as well as men, Brody writes. She concludes: “It’s not that very old people… can exercise because they are healthy, these findings indicate. Rather, they achieve a healthy old age because the exercise.”


Anonymous said...

It's very important to keep fit during the whole life and don't take it out on your age. Sport is life and energy and it fills you with positive emotions and health for the whole life.

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