I know this is a somewhat alarming title…does it refer to environmental, political, economic or terrorist calamities that can threaten our survival? Not this time; it connotes survival without the chronic illnesses and diseases that can befell us after middle age.
This term (you have to admit it got your attention) was used by Dr. Qi Sun and other researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in an analysis of 25 years of follow-up of the more than 13,000 participants in the Nurses Health Study (published in the Archives of Internal Medicine). They defined successful survival as a goal for woman who are living to at least age 70 with no impairment of their cognitive function, no limitations on moderate activities, only moderate limitations on demanding physical activities (OK you can’t run like you used to but you can walk briskly), no mental health limitations, no cancer, diabetes, major heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gerhrig’s Disease). Sounds like a goal we would all like to reach.
Before I tell you what the women in the study did to get there, let me address my first personal query…How many of them made it? Out of the 13,535 women participating in the Nurses Study, 1,456 or approximately 11% did. The women (all nurses…duh!) were assessed initially in 1976 when they were 30 to 55 years old and have been followed ever since. The type, timing and intensity of their physical activities were calculated in 1985, when their mean age was 60 years. The title of successful survivors was bestowed (if they were worthy) once they had a follow-up between the years of 1995 to 2001.
So what helped their successful survival? Physical activity in mid-life! A positive association between physical activity and successful survival was strong within each group of women no matter what their body mass, even if they were overweight! The activities in mid-life particularly associated with successful survival included jogging, running, playing tennis, aerobics and WALKING. Yes, just walking at a moderate pace (which means fast enough to work up a teensy bit of a sweat but not so fast that you cannot carry on a conversation with someone who might be walking with you.) They calculated that compared to women whose walking was at a leisurely pace, women with a moderate walking pace had a 90% increase in the odds of successful aging and that women whose walking pace was brisk or very brisk (sort of speed walking) increased their odds 2.68 fold (that’s 268%).
Walking is something that is usually quite sustainable and should be fairly easy to incorporate into our daily schedules, especially here in Southern California. No gym, special equipment, or trainers necessary! After reading this study I made my dog walk faster so that I could do my daily exercise with some extra briskness. Thirty minutes could help both of us successfully survive.