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Today, there are more than 55,000 American who are 100 or older, and the over-85 group is the fastest-growing population in the United States.

But living longer is not solely reserved for those in top health, says one new study. This new study has shown living well into your 90's is not just due to good genes. A healthy lifestyle will get you there in good health.

Dr. Laura Yates from the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts published the research recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers analyzed data of over 2300 men of an average age of 72 years. For more than 20 years they had a yearly assessment of their; weight, medical conditions, exercise habits and other health information.

By 2006, 970 of the men had had a 90th birthday. The researchers looked at the common characteristic of this group.

The most important factors for a long life are;

  • not having high blood pressure
  • having healthy weight levels (BMI under 25)
  • regular 'vigorous' exercise
  • not smoking
  • not having diabetes

Overall, smoking has the greatest negative affect on living a long life, followed by diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

Dr Yates said, "This study looked for factors that were modifiable - you can control your weight, you can modify whether or not you exercise - and showed how important they are for long life. She added, "Equally important, these factors were associated with less disease so that people had more years of good health."

Although our average human life expectancy is now around 78, the number of very old people — those thriving at 85 and beyond — is growing!

The study, published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine, shows that many men have excellent odds of reaching their 100th birthday, even if they're coping with heart disease or diabetes. This study included 700 centenarians, about one-third of whom had been living with a chronic disease for years.

"A lot of people think that if you have major age-related diseases for 15 or 20 years, that you're not going to make it to very old age," says Dr. Dellara Terry at Boston University, the study's lead author. "And, in fact, these are folks who not only made it — but they made it to age 100!"

According to a second study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, this kind of active lifestyle is a key predictor of longevity.

Researchers at Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital followed a group of 2,357 men for over 25 years beginning in their early 70s. They found that the men who lived the longest had some things in common: they avoided smoking, didn't become obese or diabetic, controlled their blood pressure (see our Blood Pressure Naturals), and remained physically active, exercising up to two to four times per week. These men had greater than a 54 percent chance of living into their 90s, researchers said.

"The surprise, I think, is the importance of regular exercise, and how strongly that was associated with long life and good function," says Dr. Laurel Yates, the lead author of the study. This means folks aren't just hanging on. Many have a good quality of life.

"There's so much ageism in this society that constantly reminds older people, 'You can't do this; you can't do that,'" says geriatrician William Hall at the University of Rochester.

But, Hall says, there are a lot of ways for older Americans to stay active. He says that many older adults, particularly women, do well with group activities.

In this prospective Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital research study of 2357 healthy men (mean age, 72 years) within the Physicians' Health Study (1981-2006), biological and lifestyle factors and conditions were assessed by self-report with baseline and annual questionnaires. Mortality and incidence of major diseases were confirmed by medical record review. Late-life function was assessed 16 years after baseline by the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey.

A total of 970 men (41%) survived to at least age 90 years. Smoking was associated with increased risk of mortality before age 90 years, and similar associations were observed with diabetes, obesity, and hypertension).

Regular exercise was associated with a nearly 30% lower mortality risk. The probability of a 90-year life span at age 70 years was 54% in the absence of smoking, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, or sedentary lifestyle. It ranged from 36% to 22% with 2 adverse factors and was negligible (4%) with 5. Compared with non-survivors, men with exceptional longevity had a healthier lifestyle, had a lower incidence of chronic diseases, and were 3 to 5 years older at disease onset. They had better late-life physical function and mental well-being. More than 68% (vs 45%) rated their late-life health as excellent or very good, and less than 8% (vs 22%) reported fair or poor health. Regular exercise was associated with significantly better—and smoking and overweight with significantly worse—late-life physical function. Smoking also was associated with a significant decrement in mental function.

Modifiable healthy behaviors during early elderly years, including smoking abstinence, weight management, blood pressure control, and regular exercise, are associated not only with enhanced life span in men and women but also with good health and function during older age.


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