Swim Bits – April 2021


A doctor I once saw loved the Finns. Finland has a homogeneous population, not too large (five and half million), and medical record-keeping that goes back to at least 1910. Finland is perfect for longitudinal studies on health, diet, and practically anything else you’d want.

A recent article in “Scientific American” (January 2021, p. 24) describes two new studies about physical and cognitive aging in Finnish adults born in 1910 and 1914 with those born 30 years later. Then the same age groups were compared to similar Finnish age groups (not the same people) in 1989-90 and 2017-18.

You might ask what does this have to do with swimming? One, we are all getting older. Two, the later groups were clearly superior in all physical and cognitive tests.

I quote: “The later-born group could walk faster, had a stronger hand grip and could exert more force with their lower leg. Such metrics are reliable predictors of disability and mortality. On cognitive tests,the later cohort had better verbal fluency, … and scored higher on a test matching numbers to symbols.”

Now comes the question: Why?

The obvious answers were improved medical care and a drop in smoking since 1910. The biggest factors, however, were that “the later-born adults were more physically active and had bigger bodies, which suggests better nutrition.”

This describes swimmers perfectly. We’re doing the right thing to live longer and to be healthier in older age. We exercise regularly and are careful with our diet for the most part.

The article continued: “For brain function, the key seems to be more years of education.” The US National Institute on Aging agrees.

The Scientific Director of the Institute points out that more education leads to larger income, better access to medical facilities, good nutrition, and a job that is not wiping out your body. All this seems obvious to Mastersswimmers, because our demographics match these criteria very well.

I will leave it to others to link the above to what we should be doing as a nation to help everyone in this country live longer in good health. For Masters swimmers, keep doing what you have been doing: swimming, eating well, and continuing to learn something.

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