The five secrets of elderly men living to age 90 include regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding diabetes, blood pressure control and maintaining normal weight, a study of aging men said. This new study shows that these five behaviors are associated not only with living into extreme old age, but also with good health and independent functioning. All of these health habits are significantly correlated with healthy survival after age 90.

It’s not surprising that choices like not smoking are associated with longer life; however, it is significant that these behaviors in the early elderly years — all of them modifiable — so strongly predict survival into extreme old age.

“The take-home message,” said Dr. Laurel B. Yates, a geriatric specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who was the lead author of the study, “is that an individual does have some control over his destiny in terms of what he can do to improve the probability that not only might he live a long time, but also have good health and good function in those older years.”

The study followed more than 2,300 healthy men for as long as a quarter-century. When it began, in 1981, the subjects’ average age was 72. The men responded to yearly questionnaires about changes in health and lifestyle, and researchers tested their mental and physical functioning. At the end of the study, which was published Feb. 11 in The Archives of Internal Medicine, 970 men had survived into their 90s.

There was no less chronic illness among survivors than among those who died before 90. But after controlling for other variables, smokers had double the risk of death before 90 compared with nonsmokers, those with diabetes increased their risk of death by 86 percent, obese men by 44 percent, and those with high blood pressure by 28 percent. Compared with men who never exercised, those who did reduced their risk of death by 20 percent to 30 percent, depending on how often and how vigorously they worked out.

Even though each of these five behaviors was independently significant after controlling for age and other variables, studies have shown that many other factors may affect longevity, including level of education and degree of social isolation. They were not measured in this study.

Although some previous studies have found that high cholesterol is associated with earlier death, and moderate alcohol consumption with longer survival, this study confirmed neither of those findings.

A second study in the same issue of the journal suggests that some of the oldest of the old survive to 100 years or more, not because they avoid illness, but because they live well despite disease.

The study of 523 women and 216 men ranging in age from 97 to 119 showed that a large proportion of people who lived that long and lived with minimal or no assistance did so despite long-term chronic illness. In other words, instead of delaying disease, they delay disability.

Dr. Dellara F. Terry, the lead author and an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University, said the study showed that old age and chronic illness were no reason to stop providing thorough treatment. “We should look at the individual in making treatment decisions,” Dr. Terry said, “and not base our decisions solely on chronological age.You don’t necessarily have to be in good health for all of your life to attain age 100,” she said “People can attain very old age even in the face of age-related diseases, while in some cases maintaining good physical function.”

New York Times – Now there is another reason to eat your vegetables. A new study suggests that certain vegetables may help older women keep their brains sharper.

The researchers found that over time women in their 60’s who ate more cruciferous and green leafy vegetables than other women did went on to show less overall decline on tests that measured memory, verbal ability and attention.

The vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, romaine lettuce and spinach.

The federally financed study did not include men. But men would probably also show the effect, said Dr. Jae Hee Kang, an instructor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She spoke in a telephone interview before presenting the study yesterday at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders in Philadelphia.

Researchers also presented evidence at the conference that obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure could raise the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and that leisure activities with mental, physical and social aspects might reduce the risk of later dementia.

Dr. Kang’s study and the other two ”add to the growing understanding that we may be able to reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s by changing our lifestyles — losing weight, changing our diets and staying mentally and socially active,” said Marilyn Albert, who is chairwoman of the Alzheimer Association’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Council.

Dr. Kang emphasized that her findings needed to be confirmed by more studies.

She and her colleagues looked at 13,388 nurses participating in a long-running health study. They compared the participants’ answers to questionnaires about long-term eating habits over 10 years, when they were in their 60’s, to their performance in two test sessions when they were in their 70’s. Researchers noted how the scores declined in the two years between sessions.

The tests included tasks like remembering word lists after 15 minutes, naming as many animals as possible in one minute and reciting a list of numbers backward. A pronounced drop in performance on such tests may foreshadow Alzheimer’s disease.

Although most women in the study showed some decline, those who had habitually eaten the most green leafy vegetables showed less decline than those who ate the least, Dr. Kang said.

”It was almost like they were younger by one or two years in terms of their cognitive declining,” Dr. Kang said.

The differences were seen between participants who ate about eight servings rather than three servings of green leafy vegetables a week, and between participants who ate about five servings instead of just two servings of cruciferous vegetables a week.

Another new study found that obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure in middle age each added substantially to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. Each risk factor roughly doubled the risk, and participants with all three problems had six times the chance of developing dementia as those without any of the risk factors, said Dr. Miia Kivipelto of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who conducted the study of 1,449 Finnish men and women.

The effects appeared in both sexes, although the obesity factor was slightly stronger in women, Dr. Kivipelto said.