Take steps to grow old well

It’s a cruel truth: the golden years won’t be golden for many Americans.

More people are living longer, but are spending their final years suffering from chronic diseases.

The average life expectancy has climbed steadily for decades, jumping from 74 years in 1982 to 78 years two decades later. But chronic disease rates are also rising.

For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects one in three Americans by 2050 to have diabetes, a ravaging disease that forces a change in diet — say goodbye to sweets — and is the country’s leading cause of lower limb amputation.

And yet, there’s hope, particularly for the young and middle-aged. It involves — sigh — exercise.

Pardon the sigh. It’s just that everyone has heard this before. It almost feels not worth repeating, until you stop and think about it. At the end of the day, exercise is one of the most important things you can do to preserve your quality of life. A new study has emphasized that point.

Highlighted by the New York Times earlier this week, the far-reaching research found that exercise can help slow the development of chronic diseases. Exercise won’t outright prevent those diseases, but it will mean spending less time suffering under their burdensome weight.

By looking at 18,670 adults, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute in Dallas found compelling benefits to exercise.

Most notably, if you are fit during middle age, you may not develop a chronic disease until the final five years of your life. Compare that with the people who aren’t fit: They may have to suffer with a chronic disease for 20 years.

It’s worth stressing what a chronic disease is, and what it can do.

The term includes many illnesses. Heart disease and Alzheimer’s are on the list with diabetes. All three are more common in those who don’t exercise.

Rising levels of chronic disease have led to more Americans needing help in their final years. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adult children are aiding their older parents, either with money or care, at three times the rate they were just 15 years ago.

Exercise alone isn’t a silver bullet. Chronic diseases have many causes. Some — like smoking and diet — can be controlled. Others, like genetics, can’t.

But clearly, as the new study found, exercise helps. And that doesn’t mean you need a gym membership. Basic exercise — walking the dog for 30 minutes daily — will help.

Gold doesn’t tarnish, one reason it’s so valuable. A little exercise now may keep your own golden years from tarnishing as well.