Here's a message that every one of those derisive "Turning 50?" birthday cards ought to carry: A new study finds that those who are most fit at midlife suffer the fewest chronic diseases after the age of 65 and boost the number of years they will live healthy lives.
It does not, alas, make them live much longer.
Those are the findings of research published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It's based on 18,670 men and women who, at around their 50th birthday in 1984, were completely healthy as they underwent a battery of measurements and fitness tests at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. After these participants were enrolled at 65 in Medicare, the federal health plan for the seniors, the researchers tracked their health for a 10-year period up to 2010.
They looked for chronic diseases that degrade a person's quality of life and are costly to treat: ischemic heart disease, congestive heart failure, Type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer's disease and lung or colon cancer.
They found that physical fitness at midlife made healthy aging -- long considered a contradiction in terms --a distinct possibility. Those whose fitness levels at around age 50 put them in the top 20% of subjects had just over half the number of chronic conditions as did those in the lowest fitness category. And with every step up the fitness ladder at midlife, a participant's Medicare years were characterized by better health.