An ongoing Swedish study has revealed some of the key steps that we can all take to age healthier and stay independent for longer, even after the age of 90.
Researchers at Uppsala University have shared some of the findings from their ongoing Uppsala Longitudinal Study of Adult Men (ULSAM), a study that began in 1970 and looks at 2,322 men who were born in the early 1920s.
The latest follow-up found that 276 of the 369 men originally taking part were still living alone and leading an independent life, even though the average age of the participants is now 87.
"While improvements may take time to manifest, and thus are more apparent at older ages, this could also signal problems for younger cohorts, particularly females, who -- if their improvements are more minimal -- may not see the same gains in life expectancy as experienced by the generations that came before them," Levine said.
The researchers say the study reveals important factors for staying healthy as we age, with quitting smoking being one of the most significant.
Participants who have never smoked have double the chance of remaining independent later in life than smokers, the team said, and it is never too late to quit to improve health. However, they also found that despite the health benefits, many participants are reluctant to give up the habit.
"Even at the age of 70, many make the mistake of believing that a changed lifestyle is no longer important," said Kristin Franzon, specialist doctor and Ph.D. student at the Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences.
Eat a Healthy and Varied Diet. Eating a healthy diet should be our first priority, as the food we eat gives us the energy to function properly. In order to have a healthy diet, you could follow Canada’s Food Guide. It can help you to learn the appropriate portion sizes for the four food groups. Of course, eating a lot of vegetables and fruits is great for our health. It can also be a good idea to prioritize organic foods , as they contain fewer chemicals. Making the decision to eat a healthy diet is making the decision to respect and love ourselves.
"Several cling to smoking as 'the only fun left' in their lives. But on this issue our study is only one of many that clearly show how vital it is to give up smoking, and above all that it's never too late to drop the habit."
The study also highlighted the importance of a healthy diet, with the team finding a link between enjoying an independent life for longer and following a Mediterranean diet. Many study participants reported following a diet rich in fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and cereals, and low in meat and dairy products.
"True, our interpretation of the term 'Mediterranean diet', including items like potatoes, was relatively generous. So our Nordic diet is probably a perfectly good alternative. Yet our study shows that prospects of an independent old age are almost three times better for men with healthy eating habits," commented Franzon.
Staying physically active also plays a role in helping us live longer. The researchers added that rather than intense exercise, which they say could actually have a negative effect, maintaining a normal waist size and taking brisk walks as we age are key for retaining bodily functions and a higher quality of life.
One simple thing you can do is, especially for close distances, choose walking over riding, driving or taking transportation. You can climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator. You can pick exercises that are easy to do at home or outside that you enjoy. When you enjoy the physically activities you choose for yourself, most likely you’ll enjoy them and naturally want to do them. Exercise is about being healthy and having fun at the same time. Also, mixing up your exercises will keep them interesting.
"We also see that mild obesity after 70 is in fact healthy, as long as it doesn't consist simply of abdominal fat -- an observation that tends to please many men in upper middle age," added Franzon. "Overall, our findings may not be revolutionary, but they are important pieces of the jigsaw puzzle for active aging, which should be of interest to individuals, politicians and health professionals alike."