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Long Lifespan Linked to 9 Factors

What is the secret to living a long, healthy life? The question might be as old as humans have been around, but it is increasingly relevant as the large baby-boom generation approaches old age. So a new study tracked more than 5,000 men for several decades to find the secret to longevity.

Although the proverbial fountain of youth does not exist, research in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that a youthful old age is possible if one remains fit and active.

"There appears to be a lot we can do to achieve a healthy old age," said physician Bradley Willcox of the Pacific Health Research Institute in Honolulu, Hawaii. He confirmed this when he and his colleagues studied health data on nearly 6,000 men, all Americans of Japanese ancestry. The data had tracked these men for 40 years, beginning in middle age.

The researchers examined the men's biological traits, lifestyle behaviors, and social situation. "Nine risk factors became very important in telling us who could live to a healthy old age. These factors could tell us not only a lot of information about whether you could live to 75, but all the way up to 90 years of age," Willcox said.

The middle-aged men who went on to live the longest and healthiest lives had these nine things in common. They were not overweight. They had low blood pressure, low blood sugar, and low bad cholesterol. They drank moderate amounts of alcohol and did not smoke. They also had high hand-grip strength, had higher education levels, and were married.

If this describes you at middle age, Willcox says you have an 80-percent chance of living to age 80, and a good chance of doing so healthfully. "Your chances were more than 60 percent of being healthy at that age if you avoided these risk factors, yet if you had six or more of these risk factors you had less than a 10-percent chance of living into your mid 80s," he said.

Willcox says maintaining one's health into old age is especially important because the over-85 age group is the fastest growing in industrial countries and uses the most health care resources. Right behind them is the baby boom generation, the large cohort born between 1946 and 1964, who could strain health care systems if they do not stay healthy as they age. "Baby boomers are getting older and they need more information about how to age more healthfully, particularly male baby boomers who do not do as good a job as female baby boomers at aging healthfully," he said.