Happy Birthday. It took a whole lot of work and time to get here but now that you or your partner, friend, sister, brother, cousin, aunt or uncle have just blown out the candles on the cake, the unspoken question circling around in every brain is, “How many more times will we get to do this?”
The newest news is that ten biostatisticians and experts on aging at Duke University and University of Minnesota have come up with several solid possible predictors based on a long-term study of 1,507 volunteers age 70+. The researchers began with a list of 186 variables, winnowed that down to 15, and then checked back at two, five, and ten years to see who was still alive and kicking.
Their conclusions, scheduled to be published on eBIOMEDICINE, a web page for the British medical journal Lancet’s Discovery Science, can be encapsulated in five real factors, three positive, two not so much. There’s also one interesting gift-wrapped surprise. Since we’re talking birthdays here, let’s begin with that. The study group was sufficiently diverse to demonstrate that race, often cited when determining health and medical outcomes, had virtually no effect on how much longer folks would live once they got past 80.
Now, back to the remaining Fab Four. Starting at the bottom with the two problematic behaviors, yes, Doctor Mom or more likely your own primary care physician nailed it: Abusing either alcohol or tobacco or both at once shortened life spans. But if giving up that fourth glass of Cab and your taxed and expensive pack of smokes seems burdensome, the good news may just tickle your medical fancy.
The obvious favoring factor was age. Younger people were likely to live longer than older people. No big deal there. The second protector, high-density lipoproteins (AKA HDLs, the “good” cholesterol) floating through your blood vessels is a well known life-saver predictor. But it is so well known that you may be taking it for granted, not crediting it with all the benefits it deserves. Like boosting brain power.
Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s
Not only do HDLs protect your heart, when researches at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine toted up the HDLs in cerebrospinal fluid samples from a group of 60-year-olds, they found that the higher the total, the better the performance on cognitive tests. In addition, higher circulating levels of HDLs were linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps because the particles scavenge to eliminate inflammatory triggers.
Finally, when it comes to figuring out how long you will be alive and kicking, the kicking part really counts. Or, as the medical writers wrote: “The dominance of physical function over age in the near term, and causal association with longevity, even out to ten years, underscores the importance of even modest activity for prolonging life.”
Notice that word “modest,” because you don’t need to lift weights or run marathons to get the benefits of daily movement. Even simple stuff such as serious housework or a daily walk correlates with a longer life. Even better, stepping up the pace by walking briskly appears to lengthen telomeres, natural DNA sequences that stabilize chromosomes and enable your white blood cells to do their natural work of protecting against inflammation and infection.
So watch your diet. Move around. And keep those cakes and candles coming.
When researches at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine toted up the HDLs in cerebrospinal fluid samples from a group of 60-year-olds, they found that the higher the total, the better the performance on cognitive tests.