Surprising things about living past 90 years of age.

Seven years ago, Lesley Stahl hosted a CBS 60 Minutes broadcast about what factors determine which of us will live past ninety years of age. A questionnaire was completed by 14,000 people in 1981 that was highly detailed about their lifestyles – diet, exercise, vitamins, activities, and more.

Living Past 90 Years of Age (transcript from the television show) The National Institutes of Health found 1,600 survivors of the original 1981 study and enrolled them in a 90+ study to follow-up their current health and lifestyles. Each was given a complete medical evaluation every six months – balance, reflexes, physical abilities timed, mental assessments, and more.

Number one finding – smokers died earlier than non-smokers. I believe that is not news to most of us. So, what else did they discover?

Number two finding – fifteen minutes of exercise daily made a difference. Forty-five minutes daily was the best indicator of a healthy old age, but there was no measurable improvement even with those exercising up to three hours daily. Additionally, exercise intensity made no significant difference.

Activities counted as exercise in the big scheme of things. Book clubs, games, and other socializing attributed approximately the same impact on aging health as exercise.

Number three finding – vitamins did not make a difference. The sixteen hundred participants had kept daily track of their vitamin and mineral intake, and supplements appeared not to be a factor.

Number four finding – alcohol makes a difference. Moderate alcohol, any alcohol, not just red wine, makes a difference. People who drink moderately live longer than those who do not drink alcohol. Scientists equated alcohol with about a fifteen percent reduction in death compared to non-drinkers.

Number five finding – coffee makes a difference. One to three cups daily was better than more or none.

Number six finding – overweight (a bit) is better than underweight! That was a bit surprising. They did not say how much overweight was ideal, but obesity is not an option. The study stated that being overweight in younger life is not desirable nor healthy, but being slightly overweight helps more in older age.

Dementia risk increases around the age of 65 and doubles every five years after that. It used to be thought if you reached 90 or 100 years of age, dementia was not an issue. It is an issue. The risk continues to build regardless of age.

Scientists have access to the brains of deceased members of this group to delve into the inner recesses and determine brain health when they died. Plaques and tangles were found, and it appeared that they affected some and exhibited dementia symptoms, and the same amount in other brains did not affect mental health.

However, tiny holes were found – micro-infarcts – microscopic strokes – hundreds or thousands of them – were found to exhibit similar dementia symptoms as Alzheimer’s disease. A perfectly healthy-looking brain could have holes that cut off the neural transmission in the brain and reduce cognitive ability. Medical science has no answers presently to prevent micro-infarcts.

Number seven finding – high blood pressure appears to lower the risk of dementia. Again, there was no quantitative report of how high blood pressure could be to stave off dementia, but slightly higher blood pressure was associated with lower rates of dementia.

Like weight, lower blood pressure is ideal when you are younger, and there is a shift in the assessment of this older group of people living past 90 and 100 years of age. What we assume to be a healthy standard for those under 60 years of age might not be accurate for those over 80 years of age.

The brain research showed that about half the people over 90 years of age who exhibited no dementia symptoms had plaques and tangles – about the same amount that caused others to exhibit dementia symptoms. Again – unexplained!

This is making some neuroscientists question the role of plaques and tangles and neurodegenerative diseases. One question focuses on what prevents plaques and tangles from disabling neural communications? How does our brain work around disruptions that affect our thinking ability?


We associate things linearly – one thing causes another. However, things can be affected by catalysts, temperature, concentration, surface area, and more in chemistry. What if something we do not measure presently affects the rate at which dementia becomes problematic?

We do not know what we do not know. However, the evidence of healthy living into our 90s and 100s appears to have stable paths – socialization (relationships), exercise, weight management, a bit of alcohol, and periodic monitoring to ensure we stay on track.

Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin –




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