An article published in the February 11, 2008 issue of the American Medical Association journal Archives of Internal Medicine reveals that avoiding five modifiable factors can significantly increase the odds of living to the age of 90.
Laurel B. Yates, MD, MPH, of Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston and associates evaluated data from 2,357 older participants in the Physician’s Health Study, a trial of aspirin and beta-carotene as cardiovascular disease and cancer preventives in 22,071 male physicians. Demographic information, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes and angina history, exercise frequency, smoking status, body mass index, and other data were obtained upon enrollment between 1981 and 1984. Follow-up questionnaires were completed annually to ascertain changes in health or lifestyle habits, or the occurrence of chronic diseases or risks through March, 2006.
Nine hundred-seventy men in the current investigation survived to age 90 and beyond. The research team identified five controllable factors associated with failure to reach 90: smoking, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Not surprisingly, smoking more than doubled the risk of dying before the age of 90. Diabetes, obesity, and hypertension also significantly elevated mortality risk, while regular exercise lowered it by 30 percent compared to those who rarely or never exercised. Men who survived to 90 had a healthier lifestyle, less chronic disease, and were older when disease was diagnosed. They also experienced improved late-life function and well-being.
From the results of this study, the researchers estimated that a 70 year old nondiabetic nonsmoker with normal weight and blood pressure who exercised two to four times per week had a 54 percent probability of living to age 90. The presence of three of the identified risk factors conferred a 14 percent probability, while having all five resulted in only a 4 percent chance.
“Although the impact of certain midlife mortality risks in elderly years is controversial, our study suggests that many remain important, at least among men,” the authors write. “Thus, our results suggest that healthy lifestyle and risk management should be continued in elderly years to reduce mortality and disability.”
In an accompanying editorial, William J. Hall, MD notes that the fastest-growing group of older Americans is aged 85 years and older. “This unprecedented increase of the oldest old is occurring in an era of extraordinary rapid development of new knowledge of the human genome, holding tantalizing promise for novel solutions to human disease and even increased life extension,” he writes. “This study suggests that adherence to sound medical management and lifestyle modification pays enormous dividends in life extension and probably substantial reductions of aggregate medical care costs.”