Drinking is good for you! Or maybe not! Or maybe it is! Nobody seems to know. But that doesn’t stop the headline editors of the world from rolling with it being better for you than working out, because that’s just such an attention-grabber:
But that’s not quite what’s going on. The study referenced, the 90+ Study, isn’t saying that you should ditch the yoga class and pop a brewski instead. What they are saying is that there are some interesting, significant parallels between longevity over the age of 75 and certain behaviors. In fact, it might make more sense to do the yoga class, and then have that beer.
The catch is that nobody knows why, and furthermore, the same study hints that you may not want to get that old in the first place. Some details from the study:
- A lot of us are really, really old: The “oldest-old,” those 90 or older, have been exploding. Thanks to rapid advances in medical technology and the spread of preventative medicine (that is, your doctor telling you to stop smoking and lose weight), by the middle of the 21st century, a fairly significant number of Americans who saw the rise of disco will still be around to tell us that things were better back then.
- The 90+ Study is what it sounds like: A study of really old people to see how they got there and what it’s like: It’s pretty simple. If you’re really old, you can get in touch with researchers at the University of California Irvine, and they’ll talk to you about how you live your life. Since it began running in 2003, they’ve collected thousands of surveys, followed up with thousands more, conducted neurological tests, and there have been some fairly intriguing results, especially around premature death. Premature death is dying before age 75 of a preventable condition.
- The headlines focus on interesting results: The habits of the oldest-old are attention-getting. As a group, they tend to get a decent amount of exercise every day, avoid obesity (but being overweight on the BMI scale is fine), enjoy a cup or two of coffee, and, yes, drink moderately, the equivalent of one or two beers every day. According to analysis applied to the study, those will all drive down your chances of dying before 75, from 18% with moderate drinking and 11% with exercise. In other words, wine does not replace exercise. Wine and exercise are part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Why? Nobody knows: The study hasn’t really been concerned with mechanisms (i.e. why this is happening) so much as just finding possible mechanisms to study in the first place. Drinking a glass of wine or taking a long walk every day might be the key to living to a ripe old age, they might simply be tangentially connected to whatever is actually doing it, or it could all be a total coincidence and living to 90 is just a matter of hitting some form of genetic lottery.
- Also, you may not want to get to 90 in the first place: One of the study’s key findings? Nearly half of those age 90 or older have dementia in some form, and 80% have some form of disability. Oh, also they determined that more than half of those with dementia “do not have sufficient neuropathology in their brain to explain their cognitive loss,” meaning you’ll steadily lose your faculties and doctors will have no idea why, let alone how to help you.
- Furthermore, there are plenty of reasons beyond longevity to do things or not do things: Exercise, for example, has a lot of health benefits that have nothing to do with longevity. And drinking moderately may not be a great idea depending on, say, your family history of addiction or your overall liver function. Increasingly, what science is pointing towards with diet and exercise is there’s no “one size fits all” solution to any medical problem. We know it’s good to not smoke, to eat more plants, and get off your duff on a regular basis. But what specifically you should do? Doctors are still working on that.
In short, the medical advice remains: Moderation in all things, eat healthily, and get some exercise. Just remember, during those hard gym days, that afterward, you can now better justify that post-workout beer.