Do longer lifespans mean better health?

By Laura Mize • Published: October 24th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

We’ve all heard that people are living longer today than in past generations. What’s not clear is what those extra years are like.

Are people living longer because they’re healthier than their predecessors? Or are they just being kept alive by medical advances, but spending their twilight years in worse shape than their ancestors did?

Research conducted in Denmark implies that longer lifespans don’t necessarily mean extra misery. Instead, a pair of studies of people born in 1905 and 1915 suggest mental and physical well-being are improving for the oldest among us.

Members of each group participated in mental and physical tests while they were in their nineties. Those born in 1915 outscored their predecessors on cognitive function and ability to perform activities of daily living.

In addition, the seniors born in 1915 were a third more likely to reach age 95. When it came to measures such as grip strength and walking speed, the two groups were about the same.

The researchers say the 1915 group’s overall better mental state was one key to their higher scores on day-to-day activities. But what led to that improved mental state? While there’s no way to know for sure, a few factors may have contributed. Advances in education, standards of living and disease prevention, along with healthier lifestyles, can help people reach old age in a better frame of mind than their parents did. And we’re not just talking about advances that occur late in life. Research has shown that developments that benefit a child can significantly improve late-life health, too.

Ever-improving products to help people age safely, such as safety bars and canes, can also make a difference for later generations.

So, if you’re dreading old age, cheer up. Take good care of yourself now, and you might just have a grand old time.