There's No Place Like Home — To Grow Old

Longevity and independence in senior men linked to not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight

(RxWiki News) For those in midlife, lifestyle choices made now may have a major impact on living long and staying independent later in life.

A new study found that men who did not smoke and who had a normal weight in midlife lived longer. These men were also more likely to live independently at home and be able to care for themselves without help.

"Nonsmoking and normal BMI at midlife were both associated with survival 35 years later and independent aging," wrote lead study author Kristin Franzon, MD, of the Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences/ Geriatrics at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

Josephine Dlugopolski-Gach, MD, an internal medicine physician at Loyola University Health System and an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, told dailyRx News that this study backs up what doctors tell patients every day.

"Obesity can lead to hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, joint problems," Dr. Dlugopolski-Gach, who was not involved in the current study, said. "Fat cells can secrete hormones which also affect the body. Smoking can increase the risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, emphysema. This can all lead to a sedentary lifestyle."

Dr. Dlugopolski-Gach continued, "We cannot change our genetic profile but we can certainly make sure that we reach our natural potential by leading a healthy lifestyle."

Dr. Franzon and team looked at data from 2,293 men ages 48 to 51 when this study began. These men were followed for 40 years.

Researchers collected information about height, weight, diet, physical activity, marital status and smoking history. This information also included cholesterol and blood glucose (blood sugar) levels.

Dr. Franzon and team found that certain lifestyle choices — such as smoking — greatly increased the risk of stroke, heart disease and lung disease.

According to the researchers, obesity had previously been found to increase the risk of joint problems — which may impair mobility in the elderly. Being overweight in midlife had also previously been found to increase the risk of dementia.

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.

Dr. Franzon and team defined independence as being at least 85, not living in a nursing facility, being able to walk outside without help, being able to take care of personal hygiene and having no signs of dementia.

Of the original study patients, 472 were re-examined in 2008 and 2009. The researchers found that 74 percent of these men met the criteria for independence. Of these men, those who had a normal BMI in midlife and those who had never smoked or were former smokers were more likely to live independently.

Exercise was also a factor in both survival and independence. High leisure-time activity — such as strenuous physical activity or competition — at midlife increased survival. Low work-time activity — such as moderate walking on the job — at midlife increased independence but was not linked to survival.

Dr. Franzon and team noted that study patients were offered treatment for conditions that might have decreased their risk of survival or independence.

This study was published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Dr. Franzon was funded by grants from Uppsala Geriatric Foundation and Thureus Foundation. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
May 22, 2015