TOWARDS A HEALTHY HUNDRED
As the number of centenarians increases, research shows us more and more ways to join them
The United Nations reported in 2015 that the world population aged 100 or over, the so-called centenarians, was 451,000. The number of centenarians in each country represents not only longevity but the general well-being of citizens; more healthy centenarians enhances the dignity and image of a country. This has become a topic of interest around the world including in Thailand, where the Thailand Research Fund sponsored “The Study of Thai Centenarians”, a report on the country’s “terminal ageing population group”.
This study differs from others on the ageing population by focusing on those above 80, especially those over 100. This is above the average Thai lifespan, which according the Ministry of Public Health is 71 years for men and 77 for women. What they found is that while in the past 20 years the birth rate has decreased, the terminal ageing population has bubbled up at 9.4% per year. In 2016, this group numbered 1.5 million, well above the 440,000 at the last count. This number is expected to increase to 3.9 million in the next 20 years.
The study suggests that population ageing is accelerating. Thais are living longer than before and the underlying explanations are not clear. Many factors are contributing, including genetics, as it is likely that in families with older members we can expect the younger generation to also live longer. And there are many other factors worth exploring, such as food and nutrition.
Mahidol University researchers have conducted interviews with “centenarian mothers”, focusing on what they eat that might be extending their lifespans, as well as environmental factors, whether areas with longer lifespans have a different climate, such as a higher altitude with cleaner air. This is the case in Loei Province, which has a favourable atmosphere and a higher rate of centenarians. Another important contributing factor, as I have often reiterated, is to be physically and mentally active in body and soul. In this issue I will again focus on the contributions of physical activity towards extending our lives. Get up, stand up Ageing individuals who are not active should resolve to incorporate regular exercise into their schedules. Exercise strengthens the body; however, it is important to consult a doctor or professional trainer before starting a fitness regime. Newcomers should start with a type of exercise they like, up to medium difficulty. Choosing something enjoyable makes it more likely that the habit will be continued. Then gradually increase the duration every few days, to at least the 30-minutes mark without too much strain. Now stabilize this 30-minute pattern and either increase the duration or difficulty of the exercise. One step further would be to include other types of exercise to maintain novelty and interest. Your body will thank you.
Exercise keeps the doctor away
The immune system is stronger in fit and active bodies. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado in Boulder found that antibodies diminish with ageing, leading to a decline in immunity. Exercise, however, stimulates the response of immune system cells (T-cells). This confirms the need for exercise in those over 50, when immunity starts to diminish.
Healthy body, healthy brain
Active adults normally have better concentration and this helps fight dementia and boost memory and recognition. This is the finding of researchers from Feinberg Medical School, Northwestern University. They determined that the sitting and working routine has a negative impact on cognitive efficiency as well as sleep quality, especially as we get older.
In this study, researchers recruited men and women for a two-week observation. Participants were in decent physical condition aged 67 to 86. They were given 30 minutes of warm-up exercise, 30 minutes of social interaction and finished with light to medium exercise for another 30 minutes. The warm-up consisted of arm and leg stretches followed by light to medium exertion such as walking. The next part had increased levels of physical movement, including speed walking, speed exercise or even dancing. The cool-down took another 10 minutes, so the combined programme lasted 90 minutes.
After two weeks of continuous exercise, brain efficiency and sleep quality improved. Subjects confirmed they had a deeper sleep and woke up less often during the night.
Age no excuse for inactivity
Another study, conducted by researchers from Michigan University, followed 9,611 subjects to ascertain trends for the 50-60 age range. Those still physically active in that range were 35% less likely to die in the following eight years. This lower risk of death was found through all walks of life, including those pursuing medium level exercise such as walking, gardening, even dancing. Interestingly, even overweight people who were still active had a lower risk than those who were inactive. The findings should inspire people aged 50 to 60 to be more active, no matter what physical hindrances they might have, even smokers or those at risk of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension can benefit.
In my series of articles on this subject, I have illustrated many factors that have an impact on longevity. There is more to come, since longevity is part of the human condition and further findings are waiting to be revealed to the public. Talk to you all soon!