Apparently, for men at least, it isn't that hard -- at least on paper. According to this morning's New York Times Health section:
Five behaviors in elderly men are associated not only with living
into extreme old age, a new study has found, but also with good health
and independent functioning.
The behaviors are abstaining from smoking, weight management, blood pressure control, regular exercise and avoiding diabetes. The study reports that all are significantly correlated with healthy survival after 90.
While it is hardly astonishing that choices like not smoking are
associated with longer life, it is significant that these behaviors in
the early elderly years — all of them modifiable — so strongly predict
survival into extreme old age.
“The take-home message,” said Dr. Laurel B. Yates, a geriatric specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
in Boston who was the lead author of the study, “is that an individual
does have some control over his destiny in terms of what he can do to
improve the probability that not only might he live a long time, but
also have good health and good function in those older years.”
...after controlling for other variables, smokers had double the risk
of death before 90 compared with nonsmokers, those with diabetes
increased their risk of death by 86 percent, obese men by 44 percent,
and those with high blood pressure
by 28 percent. Compared with men who never exercised, those who did
reduced their risk of death by 20 percent to 30 percent, depending on
how often and how vigorously they worked out.
Even though each of these five behaviors was independently
significant after controlling for age and other variables, studies have
shown that many other factors may affect longevity, including level of
education and degree of social isolation. They were not measured in
Although some previous studies have found that high cholesterol
is associated with earlier death, and moderate alcohol consumption with
longer survival, this study confirmed neither of those findings.
A second study in the same issue of the journal suggests that some
of the oldest of the old survive not because they avoid illness, but
because they live well despite disease. In other words, instead of delaying disease, they delay disability.
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