Lives aren’t just getting longer; they’re getting better

By Amy Wimmer Schwarb • Published: November 13th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If you think medical science is helping the sick and feeble prolong their lives—and, at times, their suffering, think again.

New research from Harvard University shows that people aren’t just living longer, but healthier. In the past two decades, as life expectancy has increased, the years added have tended to be healthy years.

Based on 20 years’ worth of responses to a Medicare survey, researchers looked at how well people were able to walk, cook, clean, bathe, dress and manage their own money.

In combing the data, researchers were looking for a revealing answer to a simple question: How close are people to death?

These days, more people are healthy until the final one or two years of life. In addition to adding years to our lives, advancements in medical technology have also made the later years good ones.

What’s the reason for more healthy living late in life? We simply know more. Proper nutrition and exercise habits ward off any number of life-threatening illnesses.

And these technological advances have thwarted some of life’s most debilitating illnesses, particularly heart disease. Today, cholesterol-lowering drugs and preventive treatments have led to fewer heart attacks, and those who do experience a heart attack are more likely to survive it. A stroke was once seen as a sentence to a disabled life; now, people can go on to a reasonably healthy existence.

Part of these late-in-lifestyle improvements can be attributed to simple explanations, such as greater access to health care and improvements to health care facilities and care.

It is sometimes said that the only thing worse than death is getting old. But this eye-opening new knowledge suggests that, now more than ever, aging truly can be graceful.