My mother, who lived to age 96, loved to be on the move. And it turns out that her lifestyle made a significant impact on her longevity, according to two studies that look at how adults age 65+ can live longer.
Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, cognitive decline, and type 2 diabetes, but most of the research has focused on people under age 65. New studies suggest that activity and getting out of the house contribute to the longevity of older adults as well.
In the first study, researchers wanted to find out if being physically active (such as exercise, household chores, or leisure activities) might reduce cardiovascular disease risk in older adults the way that it does in those under age 65.
Almost 25,000 men and women in three different age groups reported their activity levels. Over the next 18 years, researchers tracked deaths and hospitalizations from a heart attack or stroke.
They found that physical activity was just as closely linked to a lower risk of heart disease in adults aged 65+ as it was in those who are younger. For example, people older than 65 who engaged in any amount of physical activity—even for less than 30 minutes a day—had a cardiovascular disease risk 14% percent lower than the non-exercisers. The study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, is impressive in that it had a very large study size and was longitudinal (over a number of years).
“It can be hard to convince people in this age group to keep moving,” says Jessica Kalender-Rich, M.D., a geriatrician at the University of Kansas. “This study shows that you don’t need a very vigorous workout regimen or be walking six miles a day. Every little bit you move is better than not moving at all.”
In another study, the frequency with which folks aged 70+ left the house predicted how likely they were to make it to the next age milestone, as published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. They tracked men and women between the ages of 70 to 95 who lived at home, asking how often each person left the house per week on average and then tracked how long they lived.
Those who left home most frequently—whether on their own or with assistance—were significantly less likely to die during the 25-year follow-up period than those who tended to stay home.
“The simple act of getting out of the house every day propels people into engagement with the world,” said study author Dr. Jeremy Jacobs of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center. “We saw similar benefits that you’d expect from treating blood pressure or cholesterol with medicine. Social factors are important in the process of aging.”
The effect was independent of medical problems or mobility issues: “We included people who had mobility difficulties, so this isn’t just about people moving their legs up and down,” Jacobs said. “That’s quite exciting. There’s something about interacting with the world outside that helps.”
And there are plenty of ways to interact with the world, according to Dr. Jacobs: “Being active cognitively, reading, volunteering, and getting out of the house are all examples of a degree of activity and engagement with the world that seems to have some protective effect or that reflects an underlying attitude of resilience.”
So if you are looking for ways to extend your life—and make those extra years healthier—heed this advice: move at least a little bit every day and get out of the house as often as you can. At Community Thread, we offer recreational, social, educational, and volunteer opportunities for adults age 50+ to stay active and engaged. Our two senior center sites had over 15,000 visits in 2017. So come join the crowd for your health, and longevity.
By: Sally Anderson