My friend turned 70 over the Thanksgiving holidays. The reality is that we who were once the youngest in the room are now oldest and — for better or worse — getting older. Women who reach 65 are likely to live to 81 and men to 76, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which also studied longevity factors.
Researchers concluded that there are four key factors that reduce life spans: smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and obesity. They say that if people would avoid these four risk factors, life expectancy would increase by 4.9 years for men and 4.1 years for women.
Two unrelated studies released at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, which starts today, supported the notion that keeping body and brain moving can fight the scariest prospect associated with getting older — Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The studies, which focused on people with an average age of 81, offered evidence that reading, writing and playing games could keep the brain chugging along at speeds not too different from the brains of 30-year-olds, and keeping up blood flow to the brain via regular exercise also improved the odds that the brain will continue to work well.
These findings don’t sound like rocket science. It’s the kind of wisdom that older people have been figuring out on their own for generations. But it’s hard to think about it when I’ve just spent a week baking pecan pie and sneaking a little cream into the gravy so when I poured it over the dressing, it would taste just right. But I’m turning over a new leaf today. My retirement planning going forward will include more vegetables and less bread, more exercise and fewer hours sitting on my backside.
These kinds of findings argue for delaying retirement and working longer, not only because if we’re going to live another 20 years, we have to pay for it, but also because working makes it less likely that we’ll retire to the couch to watch TV, clog up our arteries and put our brains in a stupor.