Stanford marshmallow experiment at 4-6 years old?
“The duration of the disabled period near the end of one’s life has enormous personal and societal implications, ranging from quality of life to health care costs,” said senior author Anne B. Newman, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Pitt Public Health and Katherine M. Detre Professor of Population Health Sciences. “We discovered that, fortunately, by improving lifestyle we can postpone both death and disability. In fact, it turns out that we’re compressing that disabled end–of–life period.”
Dr. Newman and her colleagues examined data collected by the Cardiovascular Health Study, which followed 5,888 adults from Sacramento County, Calif.; Forsyth County, N.C.; Washington County, Md.; and Allegheny County, Pa., for 25 years. All of the participants were aged 65 or older and were not institutionalized or wheelchair–dependent when they enrolled. The participants reported or were assessed for various lifestyle factors, including smoking habits, alcohol consumption, physical activity, diet, weight and their social support system. The researchers took into account and adjusted results for such factors as participants’ age, sex, race, education, income, marital status and chronic health conditions. Across all the participants, the average number of disabled years directly preceding death – rs when the person had difficulty eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, getting out of bed or a chair, or walking around the home – raged 4.5 years for women and 2.9 years for men. For each gender and race group, those with the healthiest lifestyle (those who were nonsmokers of a healthy weight and diet and getting regular exercise) not only lived longer, but had fewer disabled years at the end of their lives. For example, a white man in the healthiest lifestyle group could expect to live 4.8 years longer than his counterpart in the unhealthiest group, and at the end of his life, he’d likely spend only two of those years disabled, compared to 3.7 years for his unhealthy counterpart. Put another way, that man’s healthy lifestyle has given him nearly three more years of active life free of disability than his unhealthy counterpart, who not only died earlier but spent the last three–and–a–half years of his life disabled – a larger percentage of those remaining years.