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How Long Will You Live?

Author: Tracie Johanson

Perhaps you've seen the latest health news.....scientists are concerned that our overweight and obese population will not live as long as previous generations. USA Today recently reported that "Obesity could shorten the average lifespan of an entire generation - today's children - by two to five years, according to a controversial new life-expectancy analysis" (Source: Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY).

In ancient Rome, a newborn child could expect to live to 22. In the 1900's, in the US, 49 was the average life expectancy. In 1991, the average life expectancy was 75 years. Between 1950-1980, the population of those over 65 doubled, and by the year 2025, the group of people aged 60 and over will have grown from 376 million in 1980 to 1.12 billion. (Source: Donna M. De Cunzo, R.D., L.D.)

Life expectancy for Americans today is 77.6 years, an all-time high.

However, obesity and all the related physical problems that come with obesity are causing some serious issues for us and our health.

Now more than ever, it's critical that we take the time to exercise and educate ourselves on healthy eating. Obesity is the problem, and we can be part of the solution!

Researchers at Tuft's University have studied aging. They have come up with the following five factors, which they call biomarkers, that can help people live longer and improve the quality of their life.

1) Diet: As the body ages, it requires fewer calories. Men and women 55 and older need 150 to 200 fewer calories per day than those younger than age 55. This decrease may be due to a natural decline in metabolic rate and/or decreased physical activity. However, the need for essential nutrients does not changed. Thus, there is not much room for high calorie, low nutrient foods. According to the USDA's Human Consumption Survey, those over 55 were found to consume less than 70% of the RDA for B6, B12, calcium, magnesium and vitamin A. Even for those who require special diets to treat diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, a diet low in animal products and high in fiber (from whole grains, fruits and vegetables) is beneficial.

2) Lean Body Mass: Lean body mass, or muscle mass, generally decreases at a rate of 2% per decade after age 40. When LBM decreases, disuse syndrome occurs, resulting in obesity, fragility, depression and decreased cardiovascular function. This is why it's critical to engage in regular resistance exercise throughout life!

3) Body Fat Percentage: Keeping body fat down and lean body mass up is important in preventing injury and disease.

4) Aerobic Capacity: Exercise aerobically at least 3 times a week, keeping the heart rate at about 70% of maximum for 30 minutes or longer.

5) Strength: Weight bearing exercise is especially important in reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Dr. Bill Evans studied a group of people at age 90 who needed assistance with daily tasks and had a history of falling. Dr. Evans had the group lift 80% of their one repetition maximum weight for an eight week period. After eight weeks, the group increased muscle strength by 60% and increased LBM by 10%. (Source: Dr. Bill Evans and Dr. Irv Rosenberg of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center at Tuft's University.)

The take-home message is that obesity causes a lot of health problems. As a nation, our weight issue has gotten so out of hand that it may impact overall life expectancy. However, we can be part of the solution by engaging in regular exercise (both aerobic and resistance exercise) and by watching what we eat. This is especially true as we get older.

So, while nobody really knows how long we'll live, we can certainly tip the odds in our favor!

About the author: Tracie Johanson is the founder of Pick Up The Pace, a 30-minute exercise studio for women, focusing on fitness, health and nutrition for maximum weight loss.

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