I recently had my yearly physical, with the usual tests for blood pressure, weight, height, lung capacity, and blood work. While my cholesterol and lipids have always been good, I was pleased to find that my lung capacity has increased, my blood pressure continues to stay in the safe numbers, and my weight had decreased by 15 pounds, down to a svelte 160. I haven’t weighed 160 since I was a sophomore in high school! I attribute the favorable numbers to my diet and my exercise program. I have a family history of diabetes and high blood pressure, and there is no doubt in my mind that I would be going down that road too if I had a sedentary lifestyle. Several years ago, after being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylosis, creeping high blood pressure, and colitis, that I was going to make a choice to enjoy middle-age as free from disease as I could control. A recent study, published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, seems to bear me out. In a nutshell, as Gretchen Reynolds states in the New York Times Phys Ed column (September 5, 2012), “being or becoming fit in middle age, even if you haven’t bothered with exercise before, appears to reshape the landscape of aging.” In the study, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute in Dallas gathered the medical records for 18,670 middle-aged men and women who’d visited the Cooper Clinic for a checkup beginning in 1970. These 18,670 men and women, average age 49, were healthy and free from chronic disease at their first checkup, when they all took a treadmill test to determine their aerobic fitness. They were then divided into five fitness categories, with the bulk of them in the least-fit category. Then, in a first-of-it’s-kind data comparison, the researchers checked the same individuals’ Medicare claim records (with permission) from 1999 to 2009, by which time most participants were in their 70s or 80s. What they found was that those adults who had been the least fit at the time of their middle-age checkup were also the most likely to have developed any of the eight serious or chronic conditions early in the aging process. These include heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and colon or lung cancer. The adults who’d been the most fit in their 40s and 50s often developed the same conditions, but much later in life. Typically, the most fit lived with chronic illnesses in the final five years of their lives, rather than the final 10, 15, or even 20 years. An interesting note: The effects of fitness in this study were greater in terms of delaying illnesses than prolonging life. While those in the fittest group did tend to live longer than those in the least ft group, more important was the fact that they were even more likely to live well during more of their older years. We’re talking quality of life here. Folks, it doesn’t take much to start-walking 20 or 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. It all boils down to this choice: How do you want to spend the rest of your days on the planet?

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.