I watched the most recent 60 Minutes, which had a fascinating article on what helped people successfully live past 90, and these are my notes.
The Leisure World Cohort Study studied thousands of seniors who were “mostly Caucasian, well educated, upper-middle class, and elderly”[i] and living in a place called Leisure World in Laguna Beach, California. The participants have been tracked for decades starting with a survey they were given to fill out in 1981. “The baseline survey asked demographic information, brief medical history, medication use, personal habits (including cigarette smoking, activities, alcohol consumption), and select food and beverage frequency intake.”[ii]
The results have been nothing less than extraordinary.
Genes appear to play a role but since some had parents who died early was not as powerful a factor as might be thought.
The benefits of not smoking and exercise were not surprises. Non-smokers lived longer than smokers. People who exercise live longer. “As little as 15 minutes a day on average made a difference. Forty-five was the best. Even three hours didn’t beat forty-five minutes. And it didn’t all have to be at once.”[iii] Some minutes of walking at one time in the day, gardening later, some strengthening exercises sitting in a chair at another time all add up. And it did not have to be intense physical exercise.
Nonphysical activities: socializing, board games all count toward increasing longevity: “for every hour you spend doing activities in 1981 you increased your longevity. The benefit of those things and never leveled off. “[iv]
But, surprise, diet didn’t seem to matter. The seniors didn’t appear to watch what they ate, and there weren’t any particular supplements that appeared to be significant. They all seem to love dessert.
Alcohol made a difference. Surprise: teetotaling apparently is not a healthy practice. People who didn’t drink at all, or who drank a lot did not do as well as people who drank moderately. It wasn’t just wine, it could be martinis or beer. “Up to two drinks a day lead to a decreased risk of death compared to nondrinkers.”[v]
Moderate caffeine intake will was better than more or none: 1 to 3 cups of coffee per day.
And, surprise, it turns out that the best thing to do as you age is to at least maintain or even gain weight.”[vi] It’s not being obese – it didn’t look like anybody in the study was obese, but at least on the TV show most everyone seemed to have a bulging waistline. But being overweight as a young person wasn’t good. But late in life people who are overweight or average weight outlive people who were underweight. “It’s not good to be skinny when you’re old.”
The risk of developing dementia doubles about every five years after age 65. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent.[vii] Dementia is determined when the examiner finds out the examinee has problems into are more areas of brain function. But, amazingly, the brain studies revealed that 40% of the time that what doctors thought was Alzheimer’s was not. Some of the people that were suspected of having Alzheimer’s just didn’t have the plaques and tangles in the brain that Alzheimer’s produces. And some of the people that had the plaques and tangles didn’t develop Alzheimer’s symptoms.
What the study did find that was surprising, however, was that there was evidence of many tiny strokes called microinfarcts in some of the patients thought to have Alhzeimer’s. These microinfarcts are often silent and have a cumulative effect that slowly disables multiple parts of the brain.
The neurologist in the study suspected that one of the factors was low blood pressure which doesn’t seem to help the elderly. So, perhaps most astounding of all was that high blood pressure in a 90-year-old seems to ward off dementia.
Part of the reason for this study was to see what differences there were in this age group because it can’t be assumed that’s what good for one age group is good for all. In fact this study, if anything, is proving that different health states, i.e., being a little overweight, having a little high blood pressure, are actually good for you when you’re very old whereas they are not good for you when you are, say, middle aged.
An important part of this 90 plus study happens after the participants die. They all agreed to donate their brains for examination. They spend countless hours correlating the results of the brain autopsies to the behavior of the participants.
The study did not include romance and sex, but Leslie Stahl asked some participants who said they definitely felt that part of the secret of longevity was maintaining affection, romance, and sex.
The CBS 60 Minutes segment upon which this is based can be found at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/living-to-90-and-beyond/. It’s very engaging and I heartily recommend it.