Live longer: Five factors common to 70% of people who age successfully

Optimal aging is a complex blend of high cognitive and physical functioning and social components. Factors that determine our chances of successful aging are also partly rooted in our genetic make-up, but many are within our control too. A new study followed 7,000 middle-aged Canadians to determine which factors are associated with excellent health in later life.

The findings of a new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health have uncovered multiple factors conducive to optimal ageing.

In keeping with other research-derived definitions, the concept of optimal aging in the study included the absence of memory problems, freedom from mental illness and disabling pain, and adequate social support.

The study used data available from 7,651 respondents aged 60 years or older. The final sample, however, was restricted to patients in excellent health at baseline, which was 45 percent of respondents.

The first author of the study, Mabel Ho, a doctoral candidate at the Institute of Life Course and Aging said she was surprised at the number of people who maintained excellent health over the three-year study.

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She said: “We were surprised and delighted to learn that more than 70 percent of our sample maintained their excellent state of health throughout the study period.

“Our findings underline the importance of a strength-based rather than a deficit-based focus on aging and older adults.

“The media and researchers tend to ignore the positives and just focus on the problems.”

According to the data, three-quarters of respondents aged 55 to 64 at the start of the study maintained excellent health over the three-year period.

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Among those aged 80 and older, approximately half remained in excellent health.

The research found that participants who were more likely to maintain excellent health across the study had the following factors in common:

  1. They had never smoked
  2. They had no history of heart disease or arthritis
  3. They had higher incomes
  4. They did not have insomnia
  5. They were female
  6. They were not obese.

Those who had these factors in common were less likely to develop debilitating cognitive, physical or emotional problems.

“It is remarkable that half of those aged 80 and older maintained this extremely high bar of cognitive, physical and emotional well-being across the three years of the study,” added Doctor Ho.

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Older adults who never smoked were 46 percent more likely to maintain good health over the same period.

Regarding income, roughly half of individuals below the poverty line aged optimally compared to three-quarters of those living above the poverty line.

Compared to adults who were obese, those who had a normal weight were 24 percent more likely to age optimally.

The researchers hope the findings will help health practitioners and policymakers create an environment conducive to a healthy later life.

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