A case for fitness—to ward off “lengthening morbidity”

In God We Trust—All Others Must Bring Data

There has been a sign in my office with that phrase for the past thirty years. Having been trained as an industrial engineer, I have always had an appreciation for numbers. If something is worth doing, it’s worth measuring it—and reporting the numbers.

One of the many forms of aerobic exercise

A recent article in the New York Times health section caught my attention last week. It was all about how just being fit at middle age bodes well for a better life in the golden years. From the article (See link below):

Americans are living longer, with our average life expectancy now surpassing 78 years, up from less than 74 years in 1980. But we are not necessarily living better. The incidence of a variety of chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, has also been growing dramatically, particularly among people who are not yet elderly.

The convergence of those two developments has led to what some researchers have identified as a “lengthening of morbidity.” That means we are spending more years living with chronic disease and ill health — not the outcome that most of us would hope for from a prolonged life span.

The data from a new study published last week in Archives of Internal Medicine was interesting. They pulled the records of almost 19,000 middle-aged men and women who’d visited the Cooper Institute Clinic in Dallas for a check-up beginning in 1970.

For the study, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute in Dallas gathered medical records for 18,670 middle-aged men and women who’d visited the Cooper Clinic (the medical arm of the Cooper Institute) for a checkup beginning in 1970 (average age was 49).

Then they compared the results of that checkup (using their aerobic test scores to establish five categories of fitness) with their Medicare records from 1990 to 1999, a decade when most of the participants were in their 70s or 80s. And guess what? The people in the “least fit” category were the most likely to have developed any of eight serious or chronic conditions early in the aging process.

On the other hand, people who scored in the “most fit” category in their middle age also developed many of the same chronic conditions but developed them later in life. As they summarized in the article:

Typically, the most aerobically fit people lived with chronic illnesses in the final five years of their lives, instead of the final 10, 15 or even 20 years.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper on the left and Troy Aikman on the right. Dr. Cooper is known as the “father or aerobics.”

I know what you’re thinking. What if they had data on 5,000 of those 19,000 people who’d adopted a whole foods, plant-based diet at age 59? I wonder what their frequency of developing any of those eight chronic diseases would have been. Diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and colon or lung cancer.

Given what we know about the combined disease reversal records of Esselstyn, Fuhrman, Barnard, McDougall and Ornish—I am betting that those aerobically fit “healthy eaters” would have knocked the ball out of the park when it comes to avoiding 80% of those diseases and completely eliminating most of the “morbidity” associated with old age. Someday there will be such a study. But in the meantime…

It only stands to reason, if heart disease and diabetes can be reversed with a whole foods, plant-based diet, then beginning that same healthy eating regimen earlier in life would certainly be expected to prevent those diseases (and some cancers) in the first place. This is a concise summary of the primary finding of the study:

Being or becoming fit in middle age, the study found, even if you haven’t previously bothered with exercise, appears to reshape the landscape of aging.

So why not do both? Get fit, eat right, and while you’re at it—work on eliminating depression, following your passion and being as happy you can be. That kind of winning combination just makes sense. Enjoy vibrant health now and a relative absence of morbidity during your golden years.

Consecutive Daily Blogs

In addition to the source article, I have also provided links to a few earlier blogs that focus on the “big picture” of vibrant health—with emphasis on exercise, sleep & mental attitude in addition to a near-optimal diet.

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Diagnostic Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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Blogging daily at hpjmh.com…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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1 Response to A case for fitness—to ward off “lengthening morbidity”

  1. Nigel Richardson says:

    Jim, I don’t often ctiticize your work, largely because I am fundamentally in agreement with what you write, but when you glorify the power of quantification in your opening paragraph and then use a phrase such as: “It stands to reason…” my reaction is: “What reason?” It may be probable, but it is far from proven without the numbers-supported argument. Other than that, great! Nigel

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