Definitive CWRU study says exercise, no smoking leads to longer life in adults over 75

May 28, 2002

CLEVELAND--Researchers at Case Western Reserve University found the first definitive evidence that exercising and not smoking leads to a longer life in adults over the age of 75. Their research was reported in the American Psychosomatic Society's May/June issue of the journal, Psychosomatic Medicine. The current issue focuses on different aspects of aging.

The findings came from a controlled analysis of the first eight years of data collected in a National Institute on Aging-supported, longitudinal study of 1,000 adults over the age of 75, living in two retirement communities in Clearwater, Fla. The researchers also found that those retirees who exercised were not only physically more mobile but mentally healthier with less depression and more exuberance for life. They also continued to set goals and found meaning in their lives.

The researchers looked at self-motivated healthy behaviors that not only included exercising and smoking but also alcohol consumption and regular medical checkups. Factoring out overall health conditions, the last two were inconclusive, while exercise and avoidance of smoking had significant statistical correlations with living longer for the retirees.

"All levels of exercise proved beneficial. If you did a little more than someone else, you did better in maintaining physical functioning," says Eva Kahana, CWRU chair of the department of sociology and lead author on the study, "Long-Term Impact of Preventative Proactivity on Quality of Life of the Old-Old." Kahana is also the Pierce T. and Elizabeth D. Robson Professor of Humanities and director of the Elderly Care Research Center at CWRU.

She stressed that the retirees were not enrolled in strenuous exercise programs but worked exercising, like walking and golfing, into their lifestyles. She also discovered if health concerns prevented them from one form of exercise, the retirees found alternative exercises to keep fit.

In the first year of the study, the average age of the retirees was almost 80 years, and by the end of the eighth year the average age was 88.

The researchers used data gathered from the study, now in its 13th year, to develop a model of proactive behaviors for old-old adults (over 75 years old) that can prevent or diminish the stress and frailties of growing older. The model has components in health promotion, future planning, altruism, marshalling support or help, changing roles as one grows older, modifications to the environment, self improvement and use of and access to the Internet to promote health consumerism as well as using it to tie into the medical community.

"This is the first step in data analysis that we have been able to demonstrate the health promotion component of successful aging," explains Kahana.

She says that "the wheels of science grind slowly in collecting information," but the message from this study is that practicing healthy behaviors such as exercising and not smoking should be carried out throughout one's life. Stopping them diminishes their benefits, she concludes.

Kahana provides baby boomers with an "optimistic message" that if one practices healthy behaviors, it will have a positive impact on their lives and that it is never to late to try to improve one's lifestyle.
Other researchers on the project are CWRU sociologists Renee Lawrence, Kyle Kercher, Eleanor Stoller and Amy Wisniewski; Jordan Tobin and Kurt Stange from CWRU's School of Medicine; and Boaz Kahana, professor of psychology at Cleveland State University.

Case Western Reserve University

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