Updated: Sep 1, 2020
We are living longer in today’s society. It is now common for me to see several patients in my clinic over the age of 90. Ten years ago that wasn’t the case. We live in a safer world with health risk reduction and active aging.
Other potential contributing factors to living longer include the technological advances of safer cars, prompt treatment of stroke, hypertension control, glucose control, cholesterol control, total joint replacements, and treatments for HIV/AIDS.
Dr. James F. Fries from the Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine wrote about this topic back in 1980. We could also call it, “healthy aging,” “successful aging,” productive aging,” “aging well,” “living well,” “senior wellness,” and “compression of morbidity.” I like the term “compression of morbidity” as it truly describes the effects I think we all would like as we age, which is less morbidity (illness) in a shorter period of time as we age. The second part of active aging is mortality (death). What researchers have found is that seniors that choose to live a healthier lifestyle, live longer (extend their mortality) with less health issues in their elderly years. And, the time frame from morbidity to mortality is shorter (Compression of morbidity). This is a pertinent topic considering who lives here in Nevada County. We are an aging population that is trying to live an active and healthy lifestyle. There are countless examples active aging all over our community.
A great example of this hypothesis was tested in a 21 year longitudinal study that began in 1984 on a group of Runners / experimental group (538) and a group of Non-runners / Controls (423). The study was completed in 2008 and the results are promising for staying healthy as we age. At the onset, in 1984 the Runners (60 year olds) had slightly less disability than the Controls. Over the years through an average age of 80, the differences in disability between the Runners and Controls grew steadily greater. The postponement of any form of disability was about 14 years with the Runners. They also found that the Runners reported substantially less bodily pain and utilized substantially fewer medical resources. In an X-ray subset, runners had a trend toward fewer knee replacements and totally destroyed (bone-on-bone) knee joints. This last finding may surprise many of you because many people have a belief that running causes knee arthritis. Running does not cause knee arthritis if performed regularly (in moderation) over a long time with healthy individuals. Researchers have found that stopping and starting running programs while being overweight with long periods of a sedentary lifestyle is a recipe for articular cartilage damage (Osteoarthritis of the knees). Of interest, about 1/3 of the runners in the study discontinued running over the years. The reasons for discontinuing running were generally social: the dog died, the subject moved to another climate, and running got boring. Essentially no one stopped running because of pain or arthritis. Almost all the subjects who stopped running continued other forms of vigorous exercise through swimming, cycling, brisk walking, or other activities. Therefore, this was a study about performing regular vigorous exercise or activities rather than solely of long-distance running. An important note is that these subjects performed exercises on a regular basis regardless of climate or geographical location.
Lastly, a word about the findings of Mortality in this longitudinal study. The postponement of mortality was about 7 years in the runners at last observation and the postponement of morbidity was 14-16 years. So staying active with vigorous regular activity will keep you healthier longer and you will live a longer life. Most importantly is that the compression of morbidity (less time with illness before death) is shorter. So go out there and enjoy your vigorous exercise and live a long and fruitful life.