Seniors are Younger Today

Middle-aged and older adults who have reached a milestone birthday or two may take a look back at their parents and grandparents and think, “I’m not nearly as old as they were at this age!”.  According to new research, seniors are indeed enjoying better physical function and cognition than their peers between 75 and 80 were just 30 years ago.

Researchers out of the University of Jyvåskylå, Finland recently conducted a study of muscle strength, walking speed, reaction speed, verbal fluency, reasoning, and working memory across a group of men and women between 75 and 80.  When compared with people the same age in the 1990s, today’s seniors performed significantly better than people of the same age born three decades earlier.  Lung function tests, however, were similar among both cohorts. 

The results of the observational study point to greater access to good healthcare and better hygiene and nutrition in the current group of seniors.  Today’s older adults also have enjoyed improved working life and better accessibility to education.  Better cognitive performance in older adults is associated with longer education.  

Attitudes about old age have also changed over the past several decades.  Seniors are staying more physically active, helping to keep them living independent, engaged, and vibrant lifestyles.  Retirement no longer means sitting on the front porch knitting; it could mean running a marathon or learning to surf.   By staying physical as well as socially active and eating a healthy diet, more seniors will be able to remain independent and live sprightly well into very old age.  

If you have found yourself letting the regular physical activity and healthy diet slide a bit over the holidays, it’s never too late to start moving more and eating a nutritious Mediterranean style diet.  Older adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.  But if chronic health conditions don’t allow this amount of activity right away, start off slowly and gradually increase intensity and duration.  Try to also include balance training and muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week to prevent falls and improve physical function.