NEVER TOO LATE
Japanese mountain climber Yuichiro Miura could have rested on his laurels
when he set a world record for the oldest person to climb Mount Everest at
age 70. Instead, he broke his own record at age 75, and -- incredibly – did it
one more time to set the current Everest climbing record of 80 years, 224
You’ve heard it again and again: “It’s never too late.” Well, it wasn’t too late for
Mr. Miura to begin training to climb Everest once more at age 80, but what
about the rest of us? We might not aspire to be world-class mountaineers, but
many of us do want to enhance our health and extend our lives a bit. When is
it too late to make a difference?
What Research Says About Age and Improving Health
Recent research from some of the leading institutions and investigators
appear to confirm that, in fact, it may never be too late.
To take one example, a recent study of especially frail people in their 90s
discovered that three months of weight training made them significantly
stronger, increased their walking speed, improved their balance, and
It’s not only changing lifestyle factors such as your exercise routine that can
improve health as we age. Emerging therapies appear to target aging itself
even when begun later in life than anyone expected. For example, a large
study of the drug metformin – the most commonly prescribed treatment for
type 2 diabetes found that it had its biggest health impact among the oldest
group studied. Type 2, or adult onset, diabetes has previously been reported
to reduce life expectancy by 6-10 years. Yet, this recent study of almost 80,000
diabetics taking metformin found that they actually lived longer than a similar
group of people without diabetes. Amazingly, the biggest longevity effect was
in people over 70 years old. Differences were smaller for those aged 60 to 70,
with virtually no effect among those younger than 60.
A Few Surprising Results from Mice Studies
In a study that shocked the aging field in 2009, mice were given a drug called
rapamycin in their daily food allotment in the hope it would improve their
health and extend their lives. However, the key here is that the drug wasn’t
started until the mice had already reached the human equivalent of about 60
years old. Prior to this study, an assumption among aging researchers was
that treatments meant to retard aging needed to be started relatively early in
life. Amazingly, from the time the mice started receiving the drug at age 60-
equivalent, they lived about 30 percent longer than the mice not getting the
A follow-up study discovered that mice given the same drug beginning even
later -- at the human equivalent of 70 years -- also showed several
improvements in their health in addition to living longer.
Other promising new therapies to preserve health show similar patterns.
Transfusion of blood from young mice into mice at the human equivalent of
about 50 years old improved the health of their muscles, hearts and brains.
There’s no reason to think that similar effects wouldn’t be found in even older
Another promising therapy reduces the number of so-called “zombie” or
senescent cells, which accumulate throughout the body with age. The
research has shown remarkable effects in older mice, improving kidney, heart
and lung functions, among other health benefits. In fact, mice at the human-
equivalent of 75 to 90 years old have been found to live as much as one-third
longer once they began treatment when the number of these cells was
chemically reduced in their bodies.
So, whether you wish to set world mountaineering records when you’re 80
years old or simply live a longer, healthier life, science is now demonstrating
that the cliché holds: it never is too late.