More exercise, less smoking may extend, enhance life even at advanced age

May 24, 2002

Adults over the age of 72 who exercise more and smoke less than their counterparts are most likely to enjoy long, healthy and happy lives, new research reveals.

The study, published in the May/June issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, provides evidence that "proactive health-promoting efforts, even when engaged in late in life, continue to have important long-range benefits, including contributing to high quality of the remainder of one's life," according to lead author Eva Kahana, Ph.D., from Case Western Reserve University.

As part of ongoing research on how health-promoting behaviors relate both to quality and quantity of years among the "old-old" -- those older than 75 -- the investigators followed 1,000 of these adults for nine years. In doing so, Kahana explains, the researchers hoped to gain a greater "understanding of long-term benefits of spontaneous health promotion efforts pursued by old-old adults." Such benefits remain largely unknown, she notes, as the majority of previous research has focused on the impacts of formal health-promotion programs in younger populations.

All study participants lived in retirement communities in Clearwater, Fla., and were between the ages of 72 and 98 when the study began in 1989-90. All lived independently and were free of major mental or physical illness.

A trained interviewer visited each participant, obtaining information on personal health behaviors, such as smoking and exercise patterns; physical health, including numbers of health conditions and disabilities; and psychological well-being, indicated by how frequently the participant experienced positive and negative emotions.

The interviewers repeated this process every year for the next eight years. Starting in year five, the investigators decided to go further beyond what Kahana describes as the "traditional mental health indicators of depression and negative affect" by having the interviewers probe participants' goals in life and how meaningful they felt their existence was.

By the last interview, almost two-thirds of the participants had fallen out of the study, primarily because they had died (374 subjects) or were too ill to continue (78 subjects). A comparison of those who had died and those who had not revealed that the participants who exercised the most at the study's beginning were far more likely to survive, even when health problems were taken into account.

Those who had smoked were less likely to survive than those who had never smoked, with the risk of dying more than twice as high among those who were smokers at the study's beginning compared to those who had never smoked.

The final follow-up interview revealed overall decreases in the physical health and psychological well-being of the 357 subjects who completed the study. While the researchers expected to see such a decline, given the age of the participants and the length of the study, they also saw evidence that exercise may be able to slow its pace. Those subjects who exercised the most at the start of the study generally reported fewer physical limitations, more frequent positive emotions and a greater sense of meaning in life at the final interview, even when their health problems were taken into account.
Data for the present study came from research funded by the National Institute on Aging.


Psychosomatic Medicine: Contact Victoria White at (352) 376-1611, ext. 5300

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health. For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, For information about the Center, call Ira Allen, (202) 387-2829. To request a copy of this or any other article we have distributed, please E-mail

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