Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Ben Brown and his wife do everything together.
Friday it was the Never 2 Late fitness class at the Sports Mall in Murray, where they worked on endurance and balance.
He says he's been physically active his whole life. Together, he and his wife attend seven fitness classes, six days a week, so it was little surprise that when asked what keeps him fit and healthy he responded:
"This," Brown said, as the 77-year-old gestured to the workout studio around him.
"You don't want to sit in your home watching TV all the time or whatever," Brown said.
He and his wife are among the 9.5 percent of Utahns in 2012 who were 65 and older. And according to a report released this week, the Browns can expect many years of quality life ahead.
Utahns 65 and older on average can expect nearly 20 more years of life and 15 years of healthy life, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This puts Utahns ninth in the nation overall for life expectancy — tied with South Dakota and Colorado — and slightly above the national average of 19.1 years of life.
The state is also ninth in the country for healthy life over 65 with almost 14 years, along with South Dakota, Oregon, Arizona and Massachusetts.
Hawaii reported the highest rates overall with 21.3 years of life expectancy and 16.2 years of healthy life for men and women combined, and Southern states were the lowest. Mississippi and West Virginia reported 17.5 years of life and Mississippi reported 10.8 years of healthy life on average, after age 65.
Life expectancy based on a population's mortality rates from 2007-2009 and healthy life expectancy were measured using data from the National Vital Statistics Systems, U.S. Census Bureau and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from the same time period.
The news was even better for Utah men, compared to others in the nation.
Men in Utah are above the national average of 17.7 years life expectancy past age 65, averaging 19 years of life and a little more than 14 years of healthy life — third in the nation for life expectancy along with Arizona and California and second in the nation for healthy life expectancy, tied with Colorado, Connecticut, Florida and Minnesota.
Utah's women can expect almost 21 years of life after 65 and nearly 16 years of healthy life, above the national averages of 20.3 and 14.8 but 15th in the nation for life expectancy, along with Rhode Island and Iowa; and 16th for healthy life expectancy, along with Delaware, Maine and Nebraska.
"It's not surprising," Robert Powel, geriatrician at the Salt Lake Senior Clinic at Jordan Commons, said of Utah's place in the nation.
He said Utahns have healthy habits that may contribute to their long lives. These include the lack of smoking and alcohol drinking in the state. However, Utahns' use of antidepressants and habitual soda drinking as a replacement for coffee and tea are detrimental to their health, he said. The pollution in the state also takes a toll on residents' health, he said.
The CDC study has its limits, he said. One is that the data were self-reported. Another is that the study does not indicate whether it includes dementia and Alzheimer's into the definition of a healthy life expectancy.
The data are "tricky," according the Nels Holmgren, director of the Division of Aging and Adult Services in Utah. This is because the interests and health problems of someone who is 65 are different than someone at 85.
According to Holmgren, the majority of seniors 65 and older in Utah are healthy, self-sufficient and have strong support systems. For those who are not, the Division of Aging and Adult Services passes funding along to 12 regions in Utah to provide them with meal, home care and social opportunities.
One drawback to the aging population in Utah is the growing number of those who have Alzheimer's disease and dementia, Holmgren said. The older people get, the greater their risk.
As of 2010, roughly 32,000 people ages 65 and older suffered from Alzheimer's, according to data from the Alzheimer's Assocation. Utah is projected to have approximately 50,000 residents with the disease by 2025, a 127 percent increase since 2000.
"It's because we are a healthy state. We live longer, but the probability of having a dementia or Alzheimer's diagnosis increases with age," Jack Jenks, executive director of the Utah chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, said.
New "preclinical or presymptomatic" research on the disease may shed light into what has been an unknown disease. Heathly people are being measured in clinical trials and their health will be compared with other populations.
"Alzheimer's disease is where cancer was in the 1950s and where AIDS was in the 1960s," Jenks said.
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