How old age is changing: Researchers say senior citizens are fitter than ever before

Elderly people are fitter and healthier than ever before, researchers say (Provider: Sujata Setia)

Senior citizens are fitter and healthier than ever before, according to a new study.

Researchers found that older people are keeping physically fit and mentally strong for longer.

Older people’s physical and mental abilities have improved ‘meaningfully’ when compared to that of their peers three decades ago, according to new research.

Experiencing cognitive and physical decline after a certain age – known as the ‘lifetime maximum’ – is to be expected.

Rising living standards are however delaying the twilight years tipping point.

Co-author post doctoral student Matti Munukka, of the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, said: ‘The cohort of 75- and 80-year-olds born later has grown up and lived in a different world than did their counterparts born three decades ago.

‘There have been many favourable changes. These include better nutrition and hygiene, improvements in health care and the school system, better accessibility to education and improved working life.’

Researchers looked at seventy and eighty-year-olds now and compared them with the same ages in the 1990s (Provider: Sujata Setia)

The researchers compared the physical and cognitive performance of 75 to 80-year-olds today with that of same-aged people during the 1990s.

Co-author Professor Taina Rantanen also at the University of Jyväskylä said: ‘Performance-based measurements describe how older people manage in their daily life, and at the same time, the measurements reflect one’s functional age.’

Muscle strength, walking speed, verbal fluency, reaction speed, reasoning and working memory among elderly men and women are nowadays ‘significantly’ better than 30 years ago, the scientists found.

Co-author Doctoral Student Kaisa Koivunen said: “Higher physical activity and increased body size explained the better walking speed and muscle strength among the later-born cohort.

‘Whereas the most important underlying factor behind the cohort differences in cognitive performance was longer education.’

Life expectancy in the UK for a baby born in 2018 now sits at 87.6 years for a boy and 90.2 years for a girl, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Professor Rantanen said: ‘This research is unique because there are only a few studies in the world that have compared performance-based maximum measures between people of the same age in different historical times.

‘The results suggest that our understanding of older age is old-fashioned.’

The UK has an aging population (Provider: Sujata Setia)

Understanding elderly people is particularly important for countries like the UK, which have an aging population.

Professor Rantanen said: ‘From an aging researcher’s point of view, more years are added to midlife, and not so much to the utmost end of life.

‘Increased life expectancy provides us with more non-disabled years, but at the same time, the last years of life comes at higher and higher ages, increasing the need for care.’

Average age in the UK is expected to increase from 40 to 45-years-old by 2050.

Professor Rantanen said: ‘Among the ageing population, two simultaneous changes are happening: continuation of healthy years to higher ages and an increased number of very old people who need external care.’

The findings were published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.


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