Australians are living longer and healthier lives. Over the past two decades, the number of people aged 85 years and over has increased by 117 per cent.


The long term study from Western Australia has tracked the health of 12,000 men over a 25-year period, and the results could offer some insights into common health conditions such as diabetes and cancer and also provide some tips on healthy ageing.


The study started in 1996 as a randomised trial of ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms. Doctors did an ultrasound test of the abdomen to try and pick up abdominal aortic aneurysms before they burst or get serious. They saw 12,000 men for the ultrasound, who also filled in a questionnaire about general health. "And we've been following those men ever since," said lead investigator and director of the Western Australian Centre for Health and Ageing, Professor Leon Flicker AO. At the beginning, the men were all between 65 to 80 years of age. There are about 1600 (13%) men still around and participating in the study. The youngest man left in the cohort is 89 years of age and the oldest is 105.


So what have researchers learned from these men?


Well for one, when you get to that stage of life, worrying about your weight won't be as important. "Before the age of 60, you're probably best to be normal weight, not overweight or obese. But when you're in your 60s and 70s and 90s, you're better to be overweight rather than even normal weight," said Flicker. And perhaps don't worry about blood pressure so much either. If your blood pressure is less than 70 diastolic at an older age it's much worse than high blood pressure, and even if you had hypertension.


However, some things stay the same. Like physical activity. Exercise remains really important in preserving life throughout any age and may be even more important as you grow older. As does eating healthy, not smoking, and not drinking too much. Flicker says that research such as this will be increasingly important as a larger part of the population hits 100.


"I think in Australia currently, there's about 6,500 people over the age of 100. In 40 years time, hopefully I'll be one of them, there's going to be 40,000 centenarians," he said. "And one of the things about ageing successfully, you have to live to an old age successfully. You can't say you've aged successfully if you did it at 75, really."


Flicker said the one common thread that runs through his cohort of centenarians, and perhaps the key to their longevity, is that they have ways of feeling useful. "They've all got definite views of staying useful or having activities that they enjoy," he said. "So I think that's probably important. I think it's also important to be satisfied with your lot in life, having good mental health, and a good attitude to life. We've looked at depression as well, and that's one of the reasons why people don't live a long life.


“So, if you had to characterise it, all the little things do count."

ref- Aged Care Insite digital magazine