A study released yesterday (which involved 3,000 people aged 57 to 85.),  took a look at what keeps folks healthy as they get older, examining some old myths and revealing some interesting information.  Overall it found that age means little and obesity may not be so bad after all!

In the University of Chicago study it was factors instead like: loneliness, depression and having broken a bone that were more likely to predict a person’s risk of dying in the next five years.  The study also found that “the healthiest people were obese and robust.”

New classes of people were discovered by researchers however, that are at twice the risk of dying or becoming incapacitated in five years. They include those of normal weight who face one key health problem such as thyroid disease, anemia or ulcers, those who had broken a bone since age 45, and those with poor mental health.

The study found the most unhealthy are those with uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure, and who often face challenges getting around and performing daily tasks.

Although cancer caused 24 per cent of deaths among people over 55, it “seemed to develop randomly with respect to other organ system diseases.”

Throwing the Old Health Myths Out the Door

Obesity had long been considered a leading risk factor for dangerous conditions such as heart attack and stroke and with such a huge amount of the population falling into the obesity category ( nearly 79 million Americans at this time are considered obese, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Recent studies have suggested that obesity may not be as bad as once thought, and may even offer protective benefits against certain diseases, a phenomenon known as “the obesity paradox.”

Still, current medical wisdom holds that people are healthy if they can avoid heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

So What Now?

Suggested by those involved in this recent study is a new model of  health and aging, that includes factors such as psychological well-being, sensory function and mobility as essential factors of overall health. So what that means is that half of those considered healthy under the current medical model actually have “significant vulnerabilities that affect the chances that they die or become incapacitated within five years while at the same time, some people with chronic disease are revealed as having many strengths that lead to their reclassification as quite healthy, with low risks of death and incapacity.”

The findings suggest that “from a health system perspective, a shift of attention is needed from disease-focused management, such as medications to overall well-being instead.”

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