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Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition

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Learning and Living Longer

Posted January 04, 2007 11:49 AM by Steve Melito

January is my least favorite month at the gym. The local YMCA where I work out is crowded with new members, most of whom will retire their running shoes by Valentine's Day. Still, the changing of the calendar provides many with the motivation to get in shape. In recent years, the fitness and nutrition industry has spent millions to convince us that the proper combination of diet and exercise holds the secret to a longer life. In our search for the proverbial fountain of youth, we gulp so-called sports drinks and race stationary bikes along a road to nowhere. Leave it to a group of economists to tell us that our time and money could be better spent. "If you were to ask me what affects health and longevity", says Michael Grossman, an economist at the City University of New York, "I would put education at the top of my list."

In the last of a series of articles on aging, The New York Times takes a hard look at our conventional wisdom about living longer. The story starts almost 40 years ago and draws in economists from the RAND Corporation, Stanford, the Harvard School of Public Health, Dartmouth College, and the National Institute on Aging. In 1999, a Columbia University graduate student sought to prove a 30-year old hypothesis that investments in education improve health more than added medical spending. Adriana Lleras-Muney patiently combed through state archives to learn that life expectancy at age 35 was lengthened by as much as 1.5 years simply by attending school for an extra year. In subsequent independent studies, researchers in Sweden, Denmark, England, and Wales also concluded that compelling children to spend a longer time in school leads to better health.

Is more education really the secret to a longer life? Llears-Muney's hypothesis has its critics. Victor Fuchs, a health economist at Stanford University, notes that the life spans of men are approaching those of women even as women are receiving more education than men. Indeed, as the Times' own Tamar Lewin reported back on July 9, 2006, "Most institutions of higher learning, except engineering schools, now have a female edge, with many small liberal arts colleges and huge public universities alike hovering near the 60-40 ratio."

So what are the larger implications of Llears-Muney's research? Do my fellow gym rats and I need to spend more time with on-line courses and less time aboard a treadmill? "You might think that forcing someone to go to school who does not want to be there may not be the same thing as going to school because you want to," Lleras-Muney told the Times about her research, but "that did not seem to be the case".

Steve Melito - The Y Files


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Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Boston University
Posts: 3

Re: Learning and Living Longer

01/05/2007 1:30 PM

January is every gym-goers least favorite month! Nothing like a good new years resolution to kick you in the butt for all of 2 weeks before you forget that you even had a resolution or what it was for that matter.

Besides complaining about a lack of benches or machines in the gym, I would like to comment on the observation of "longer time in school leads to better health." I by no means doubt the credibility of researches from respected universities like Harvard (even though they are across the river from me... kind of), but what I doubt is the link that they observed. One of the biggest trends I have noticed at my university (Boston U), as well as other schools I have visited is going to the gym. BU for example just recently installed a multimillion dollar facility. It is happening everywhere. And even if the school's facility is not that nice, it is much more convenient for students to go to the gym at school than at home. It is already paid for, and in many instances, is closer.

In terms of men approaching the same expectancy as women...

Maybe I have a skewed vision, but it seems that women have always been a little more obsessive about their looks than men. Perhaps, men are beginning to consider their image just as important as women consider theirs.

Obviously, I have a lot of blanket statement in here with no research or facts to back them up. Personally, I think that the secret to longer life still is and always will be eating well and excercising. It just so happens that nowadays, it is easier to do those things at school than it was before, and those studies MAY have overlooked such a connection.

I find this topic very interesting so any facts or research relevant feel free to post links so I can take a look at them.

And as always in January, happy bench hunting in the gym.

The Adman
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