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Older Generations Are Better Off Today Than 30 Years Ago

3 years, 8 months ago

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Posted on Sep 29, 2020, 5 p.m.

A recent study has compared the physical and cognitive performance of a group of older people in 2017 with a group of similar-aged people from three decades ago; findings show improvements were seen in almost every test suggesting that progress has been made in extending healthspan. 

During the last century, humans have begun to live longer and longer, life expectancy has been consistently increasing.  Over the past few decades, some researchers have suggested that medical research should be focusing more on quality of life rather than quantity, and that making healthier simple lifestyle choices can affect both health and lifespans. 

When the HALE metric was incorporated into W.H.O global analyses in 2001, which is the healthy life expectancy calculation of how many years a person can expect to live in optimal health, it helped to renew focus on healthspan and brings awareness to the fact that as humans consistently begin to live well past the age of 70 attention must be paid to the quality of life in those senior years. 

In a set of studies, researchers from the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland compared physical and cognitive performance in two cohorts of similarly aged subjects that were born around three decades apart. The first cohort of close to 500 subjects between the ages of 75-80 born between 1910-1914 participated in a series of physical and cognitive testing in 1989. The second group born between 1938-1943 completed the same testing in 2017 to measure the progress made in extending healthspan from one generation to the next. 

“This research is unique because there are only a few studies in the world that have compared performance-based maximum measures between people of the same age in different historical times,” says the principal investigator Taina Rantanen. “Performance-based measurements describe how older people manage in their daily life, and at the same time, the measurements reflect one’s functional age.

Improvements were noted across almost all metrics tested in the 2017 cohort; physical performance, walking speed, and grip strength improved between 5-15%, knee extension strength improved 20-47%, lung function measurements were also better, and similar improvements were seen in most cognitive performance tests. 

“The cohort of 75- and 80-year-olds born later has grown up and lived in a different world than did their counterparts born three decades ago,” says Manuka. “There have been many favorable changes. These include better nutrition and hygiene, improvements in health care and the school system, better accessibility to education and improved working life.”

It was noted that the finding may be to a degree be unique to Finland due to the country still being largely agrarian and undeveloped when the earlier cohort was born, and since then a number of social reforms, education, and better nutritional recommendations that occurred in the 1940s and 50s may be the key to many of the physical and cognitive improvements that are seen in the later-born cohort. 

As life expectancy continues to increase scientists should pay close attention to the balance between the extra healthy years lived and the care systems that are needed to take care of very old populations near the end of their lives. As such, expanding the period of non-disabled mid-life years and limiting one’s disabled end-of-life years should be a priority for ageing researchers, says Rantanen. 

Increased life expectancy provides us with more non-disabled years, but at the same time, the last years of life comes at higher and higher ages, increasing the need for care,” says Rantanen. “Among the aging population, two simultaneous changes are happening: continuation of healthy years to higher ages and an increased number of very old people who need external care.

"The results suggest that our understanding of older age is old-fashioned. From an ageing researcher's point of view, more years are added to midlife, and not so much to the utmost end of life,” says public health scientist Taina Rantanen, also from Jyväskylä University.

In other words, there should be more anti-ageing research science. Anti-ageing medicine changes preconceptions of ageing as being avoidable to that of a disease which may be possible to treat with medical methods, and makes one rethink ageing. The first change is to adopt a positive attitude, and transition from a passive position to an active one; changing a few habits both with and without medication has been shown to alter the pattern of ageing. Healthy ageing is not the result of hitting the genetic jackpot, rather the outcome of preventive and interventionist approaches. 

Anti-ageing means trying to slow down the ageing process so that one grows older in good health. Durability should not be a burden, the goal is to maintain as much youthful energy as possible which can be saved and maintained, sometimes with and without the help of medicine and supplements. 

The main goal of anti-ageing is to prevent disease or even the tendency for age-related disease, the focus is on diagnosing functional and metabolic changes within the body before they can manifest as disease, and stopping them from doing so. Advances in technology allow us to now know how to identify the predisposing factors of chronic disease, which can be altered so the development of pathologies can be avoided and/or postponed. 

Anti-ageing is aimed at improving and maintaining good health as a means to extend lifespan while improving quality of life, these principals can be integrated into any medical field which will be of benefit to many people. As we get older the ageing process doesn’t have to be horrendous, by making simple lifestyle changes now, not only can we become healthier now but also extend those benefits into later life.

“Anti-ageing medicine dispels the myth that you simply wait for the arrival of diseases and ageing and accept them, showing that you can actually intervene before this happens by developing habits that will prolong your life,” says Dr. Thierry Hertoghe. 

“Anti-aging and regenerative medicine is all about is having time to enjoy your life, to enjoy your friends and family, to live, love, and accomplish what you want to do on this planet before you check out; that's what anti-aging medicine has to offer,” explains Dr. Ron Klatz wholeheartedly.

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