Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Longevity notes from dogs

The Mademoiselles Autumn and Linden will be 16! Years! Old! in a mere two months. They still cover a good 40 Arvay-miles a week with me, between running, walking, hiking, and skiing. Translation from Arvay-miles to dog-miles is probably about x3, since they run back and forth the entire time. Autumn is quite obviously slowing down, with a dodderiness and wobbliness that has become more apparent in comparison to Starbuck, who at 8 still moves about as smoothly as water. Linden still bounces around like a puppy! Between the two elderly ladies, we also have a variety of broken and missing fangs, tremors in the hips and back legs, assorted skin tags and moles, a bad shoulder (Autumn), apparently leftover cancer cells that cannot completely be eliminated (Linden), cloudy eyes, diminishing hearing (or perhaps the pretense thereof), and other assorted minor maladies. They are the only of their siblings still of this earth. My neighbors and friends used to remark, when they were a few years younger, "Wow! They are 12? They look like puppies!" Nowadays, they are more inclined to remark, "Wow! They are still running around at 16? I can tell they are old now, but they look awesome!"

I had always suspected, based on what I know of their versus their siblings' trajectories, that exercise not only prolonged their lives, but delayed their aging. Of the seven pups that were born alive:

  • 2 were given away as puppies to be pets. They started to look and act elderly at 7, and lived to be 12.
  • 3 worked as sled dogs, retired on the older side (10), and retired to become couch potatoes. They lived to be 13 and 14.
  • 2 worked as sled dogs, but retired on the youngish side (8), and retired to an active home (mine), and are still alive and active at 16.

This small data set indicates to me that we should push our fitness very hard when we are young, remain active, but back off from the high stress workouts when we pass middle age, and continue to remain active well into our twilight years. Other things I have observed from Autumn and Linden:
  • Do not pop out of bed in the morning until you have luxuriously stretched each limb, muscle, and toe. Continue to stretch throughout the day.
  • Cuddle frequently. It's well-known that in humans, affectionate relationships with family and friends contribute to good health.
  • Eat well. I buy only the higher-end dog foods. Mushers often can get away with buying poorer quality kibble since they supplement with fresh meat and fish scraps. Autumn and Linden were from a farm, so they got lots of fresh foods. However, for an all-kibble diet, you need a good kibble.
  • Be even-tempered and happy. The most high-strung and most temperamental dogs in our neighborhood tend to die younger. The calm ones keep poking around well into their dotage.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff. The most territorial dogs in our neighborhood, who are constantly patrolling their borders, tend not to make it to old age either. The dogs who spend most of their time sitting on their porches tend to last well into their white-muzzled and cloudy-eyed years.
  • Do not deny yourself little pleasures in pursuit of being super slim. Yes, it's true that much evidence correlates reduced calorie intake with longer life and better overall health, even in people who are *not* overweight. However, my no-nonsense Austrian vet used to tell me when Autumn was younger that she should lose a few pounds. Over the past few years, she's said, you know, what the hell. She looks great, and we're obviously doing something right. Autumn and Linden (and Starbuck) all upon retirement, put on a whopping 20% above their mushing weight, but all of their other health markers look great! They still get their daily cheese (and occasional chicken, and beef, and sausages, and BACON, and so on and so forth).
Today, I was gratified to find this article in the NY Times' Wellness section: The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life.

Here, I quote: ... researchers with the National Cancer Institute, Harvard University and other institutions gathered and pooled data about people’s exercise habits from six large, ongoing health surveys, winding up with information about more than 661,000 adults, most of them middle-aged...

... unsurprisingly, the people who did not exercise at all were at the highest risk of early death. But those who exercised a little, not meeting the recommendations but doing something, lowered their risk of premature death by 20 percent. Those who met the guidelines precisely, completing 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, enjoyed greater longevity benefits and 31 percent less risk of dying during the 14-year period compared with those who never exercised.

The sweet spot for exercise benefits, however, came among those who tripled the recommended level of exercise, working out moderately, mostly by walking, for 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day. Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised.

An hour per day! That's a piece of cake when you have dogs lunging at the door! Probably harder to self-motivate without them.

Intensity of exercise apparently also has a smaller, but nontrivial, effect. This is contrary to all those articles that tell people that a mild walk is as good as a vigorous one.

Those who spent up to 30 percent of their weekly exercise time in vigorous activities were 9 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who exercised for the same amount of time but always moderately, while those who spent more than 30 percent of their exercise time in strenuous activities gained an extra 13 percent reduction in early mortality, compared with people who never broke much of a sweat.

All of this is reflected in the health outcomes of the seven puppies born in 1999!

Happy 16th year, my rockin' old ladies!


mdr said...

Very wise and good advice. KH and CH need to exercise, but always keep in mind that safety comes first in any case.

bt said...

16! What a milestone.

e. davis said...

Your senior ladies do look awesome & obviously doing well as a result of your excellent, loving care :)