The “Lengthening of Morbidity”

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I read that term–“lengthening of morbidity”–in an article from the NY Times this morning, and the words seemed to jump off the page at me. Never before had I heard that term, and to be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure what the term even meant. But the more I read and explored the article, the more intrigued I became.

The article was titled, “The Benefits of Middle-Age Fitness” and described an extensive study that followed over 18,000 subjects over nearly four decades. The study compared their health in 1970 with their health in the decade from 1999 to 2009, and the results were pretty eye-opening. When the subjects were first examined in 1970, all 18,000+ were healthy and free of chronic disease. When checking the group’s Medicare claim records from ’99-’00, they found that those subjects who were considered the least fit in 1970 were most likely to have developed any of eight serious or chronic medical conditions early on in the aging process. The unfit were living longer with their respective diseases, thus “lengthening morbidity.” Those who were the most fit in 1970 often developed many of the same conditions but later in the aging process. 

While that doesn’t sound that great–the study is basically saying that whether you’re fit or unfit you’re likely going to get sick–what is encouraging is that those who were more fit delayed the effects of disease while decreasing the number of years they had to deal with them.

…The results show, in essence, that being physically fit “compresses the time” that someone is likely to spend being debilitated during old age, leaving the earlier post-retirement years free of serious illness and, at least potentially, imbued with a finer quality of life.

Interestingly, the effects of fitness in this study statistically were greater in terms of delaying illness than in prolonging life. While those in the fittest group did tend to live longer than the least fit, perhaps more important was the fact that they were even more likely to live well during more of their older years.


Pretty cool, huh? The moral of the story is you need to get up and get moving. It doesn’t matter what you do or how long you do it–a simple 20-30 minute walk a few times a week will help–but that you simply get going!

QUESTION: What will you do today to not “lengthen morbidity”?