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Senior Lifestyles: Aging well depends on your parents

While lifestyle factors — such as poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking — are known risks for poor health in older age, research has begun focusing on a new dimension, including how factors inherited from parents may impact healthy aging.

In 2014, the Administration on Aging reported that there were 46.2 million people in the United States 65 and older, and, by the year 2060, this number is expected to more than double to about 98 million. This is important, because this new research has found that individuals whose parents live (lived) longer are more likely to be free of certain heart problems and cancers as they enter their 60s and 70s. That has some significant repercussions, especially for younger adults and people in their 40s. 

Obviously, aging is more than a number. Our bodies and organs typically start showing the evidence of the wear and tear we have placed upon them throughout our lives in the form of age-related issues. If you mistreated your body during the first 40-50 years of your life, the payback shows up with more problems, as the damage starts to show with a wide variety of possible conditions, ailments and illnesses. Aging athletes may know this better than most, as they recall the injuries they endured.

As previously reported in the journal AGING, research scientists found that the offspring of parents who live longer are more likely to possess genes that protect against a number of health conditions, including high blood pressure, a higher body mass index and Type 1 diabetes.

This was a large study involving data of about 186,000 adults aged 55-73, and the study followed them for up to eight years. The study participants self-reported the lifespan of their parents and any personal incidence of major issues like heart disease and cancer, as well as notification of death during the study.

Not surprisingly, adults whose parents had a shorter lifespan were more likely to develop a number of cardiovascular-related conditions such as stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythm than those whose parents lived longer. In fact, the researchers found that for every 10 years that at least one parent lived beyond the age of 70, the risk to their children of death from heart disease was reduced by 20 percent, and were also less likely to develop cancer.

Having long-lived parents seems to indicate that you, too — even taking into account poor habits like smoking, high alcohol use and minimal physical activity — may have the odds in your favor for living longer. Knowing and reporting to your physician the health history of your parents makes good sense.

It could help your doctor identify if, by virtue of those genetics, you might be at a higher or lower risk sooner than later for physical problems, and allow for preventative measures to be initiated earlier.

Life doesn’t come with guarantees, so do the right things to take care of your body throughout your life, in the hopes that your body will repay you with fewer health issues as you get older. Even starting an easy exercise regimen as a senior will offer you some excellent benefits and payback.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging. His wife’s geriatric management practice serves clients in Henderson, Polk and Brevard counties.  He is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease” available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. He and his wife may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at drron561@gmail.com.