April 9, 2013

Nonagenarians: Being Overweight with High Blood Pressure Is Good!

Approaching my 84th birthday -- still engaged in what seems like a lifelong struggle to keep down my weight and blood pressure -- I loved coming across this finding in the latest quarterly Memory Disorders Review from Johns Hopkins University.

Over three decades ago, the Leisure World Cohort Study was launched by investigators at the University of Southern California. Recently, researchers from the University of California at Irvine examined the health of survivors from that study who were 90 and older. In the world of research, that elder group hasn't been often considered. Now, it's one of the fastest-growing population sectors.

Weight and Blood Pressure 
This 90+ Study has provided valuable information on healthy aging. Here's the findings on weight and blood pressure:
  • Those in the 90+ Study with a BMI (body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight) of 25 to 29.9, a range considered "overweight," lived longer than those with BMIs of 18.5 to 24.9, which is considered normal. A BMI of 30 or more, which is considered "obese" was not associated with a longer life span. No one is sure why being overweight appears to be protective for the super-old. Perhaps those who are overweight  simply have better nutritional status than those who weigh less. They also may be better prepared to avoid "wasting," an age-related loss of muscle tissue and strength that can lead to frailty and an increased risk for illness. 
  • The studies show that for these 90+ seniors, high blood pressure was associated with less cognitive and physical decline. Again, no one is quite sure why this happens. Perhaps high blood pressure may help older people with naturally stiffer arteries. Or it could just be that many people with high blood pressure had already died, leaving a healthy group of nonagenarians who just happen to have elevated blood pressure. In any event, investigators suggest that perhaps doctors should exercise caution when  prescribing blood pressure medications for this special group.
Note: I reported last month on a mega study involving over three million people. That report showed people with BMIs in the overweight (but not obese) range are likely to live longer, a trend particularly true for seniors over 65.

I also reported on revised guidelines for blood pressure. Now, systolic (top number) readings as high as 150 -- typically categorized as high blood pressure in the past -- are considered more acceptable for people over 75.

Other Findings in 90+ Study
Here are some other factors found to contribute to healthy aging:
Exercise Is Good Medicine: The nonagenarians who exercised at least 45 minutes a day most days of the week were 27 percent less likely to die within an eight-year period than those who exercised less than 15 minutes daily. Those who were unable to walk were 30 times more likely to have dementia than those with the fastest walking times. The study found strong evidence that exercise -- even something as basic as daily walks -- helps promote new brain cells and connections between the cells.
Social engagement matters:  Numerous studies have reported that people who regularly socialize with others have less than half the mortality rates of people who live isolated lives.
A good diet is important:  Yet another recommendation for consuming a Mediterranean diet: smaller portions, fresh rather than processed foods, a high intake of plant-based foods, moderate amounts of nuts, olive oil, and fish, moderate consumption of wine (typically with meals), regular consumption of skinless poultry and small portions of low-fat dairy, infrequent consumption of meat, sugar and sweets.
Caffeine and alcohol: People who drink moderate amounts of alcohol and coffee live longer than those who abstain.
Many other studies confirm all of these findings.

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