Good Health throughout the life span does not have to be complex or expensive.
BOSTON – Genetic researchers say they are getting closer to developing new drugs to help older people age well.
But two tested methods — exercise and good nutrition — continue to get the biggest kudos from aging experts for improving health and quality of life at the 64th annual Gerontological Society of America conference.
That's all good news on the heels of Census data showing the number of Americans living to age 90 and beyond has tripled in the past three decades to almost 2 million and is likely to quadruple by 2050. Staying healthy will allow them to remain independent and at home.
"It might never be too late to change life-long habits," says Dennis Villareal, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
A study by Villareal, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March, found diet and exercise together improved physical performance by 21% in obese older adults. A lack of mobility in older obese adults puts them at greater risk for developing high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Exercise, combined with a diet high in fruits and vegetables, fish and healthy fats, over the lifespan has shown to decrease odds of developing diseases of aging, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Marco Pahor, director of the University of Florida's Institute on Aging, warns that researchers also must find out if sedentary people can safely start exercise. "Could there be a cardiovascular risk?" he asks.
Pahor is trying to find out. He is overseeing a $60 million study looking at long-term effects of structured physical activity on major mobility disability. His investigators examine the effects of physical activity on cognitive function, serious fall injuries, disability in daily living, cardiovascular events and admission to hospitals and nursing homes.
The study follows a pilot program that was the first intervention study showing risk factors for disability, such as loss of muscle mass, can be modified.
Millions of dollars are also being spent on genetic research. "Possibly within five years, if clinical trials in process work, there will be drugs on the market that can treat chronic diseases of aging,' says David Sinclair, a researcher at Harvard Medical School's department of genetics.
What doesn't make us live longer? Most hormone therapies are too dangerous, experts say. Plus, anything that promises to make you live to be 120-150 years old.
"It's quackery and causes financial and physical harm," says Tom Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study.
|Prevention is always the best medicine.|