Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Southerners rank poorly on prospects for long life

Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.
Aug. 26--Not only do Hawaiians enjoy the sun, sand and waves -- they also can expect to live longer than residents of the other 49 states, according to a 2007 longevity report.

Geriatrician Thomas Perls created a longevity survey for eons.com, a Web site geared toward people 50 and older. This year the more than 450,000 survey respondents who reported being over 50 became part of a state-by-state report.

The report found that Hawaiians over 50, with a calculated longevity of 91.98 years, responded with the most healthful habits and therefore the highest projected lifespan, while West Virginians -- with a bad attitude on aging, a generally low amount of exercise per week and the highest consumption of carbohydrates -- came in with the lowest calculated longevity of 89.52.

Respondents in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama came in somewhere in between: Georgia, whose residents have a projected lifespan of 90.52 years, ranked 26th among states; Tennessee (90.09) ranked 29th; and Alabama (90.06) was 40th.

Both Tennessee and Alabama ranked in the top 10 for highest frequency of heart attack, according to the survey. And Alabama residents ranked fourth in the category of "least likely to engage in brain activity," based on the number of respondents who said they never engage in brain activities that are new and challenging.

The only category in which Tennessee ranked first was in "worst attitude on aging," indicating the state had the greatest number of respondents who checked "I am dreading my older years," as opposed to "I feel I am aging well and that my older years will be fulfilling ones."

Some Tennesseans begged to differ.

"Oh, my outlook's favorable," said Jim Bardoner, 59, a physician who lives on Signal Mountain. "My mother used to say that the golden years weren't so golden and aging wasn't for sissies, but I don't have a problem with getting old. ... I'm surprised that we would be number one (in pessimism) because we're becoming one of the (states) where people come to retire."

Other indicators included in the study were frequency of flossing, sunscreen use, likelihood of screening for cancer, education level and number of hours spent at work, all of which determine longevity, Dr. Perls said.

"There are some things in there that are surprising to people," he said, noting that the vast majority of those responding to the survey were baby boomers, many of whom are caring for aging parents.

"They are really staring the issues of aging square in the face, and I think they're very much looking for ways to age well," he said.

The study also found that respondents in Hawaii had the most amount of exercise, whereas Tennessee ranked 10th for the number of respondents who answered that they exercise zero days per week.

Dr. Perls said the good news for those with unhealthy habits is that, particularly for baby boomers, plenty of time remains to make a change.

"For those who have gotten a bit overweight, developed some high blood pressure, maybe they are smoking and maybe they're not exercising ... they also have the opportunity to not go to the point of no return and ... reverse all of this and make them live to a much older age in much better health," he said.

Baby boomers today have more knowledge on how to age well than previous generations, said retired real estate agent Pat O'Brien, 61.

"We were given more of a road map in life than my parents ever knew," the North Chattanooga resident said. "They thought good eating was overcooked vegetables and lots of red meat and potatoes."

Dr. Bonnie Callen, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee and an expert in elderly nutrition, said the indicators used in the longevity study -- such as consumption of red meat and carbohydrates -- are not just determinants of longevity but of quality of life.

"Nutrition plays such a vital part in aging well," Dr. Callen said.

For Mrs. O'Brien, attitude is everything.

"When I was 20, I really thought people in their 50s were old. Once I got to be (in my) 50s to 60s, like I am now, now I don't know when (old age) comes," she said. "Now I can't even say I think it's going to happen in my 80s."

Fifty-year-old Tony Swornitsky, of Acworth, Ga., who volunteers at the Tennessee Aquarium and works as a plant manager for an international hardware company, said, "You're as young or as old as you feel.

"I really don't think about it," he said. "I'm actually a grandfather, and I really try not to think about it."

E-mail Emily Bregel at ebregel@timesfreepress.com
ON THE WEB Find the study at: http://www.eons.com/about/release/pr_20070523_1
To see more of the Chattanooga Times/Free Press, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.timesfreepress.com.
Copyright (c) 2007, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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