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Guenther Herzberg competing at the Seniors All-Around German Championship, and jumping farther than you whipper-snappers ever will. Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images for Spiegel Magazine

A new study finds that the physical and cognitive ability of older people has improved meaningfully over the past 30 years.

Why it matters: With the population of the elderly set to boom over the next several decades, their health and well-being are more important than ever. New research shows that rapid decline isn't a given.

What's happening: The study, performed by researchers at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, compared the physical and mental performances of a group of subjects between 75 and 80 years old to a similarly aged group back in the 1990s.

  • The researchers found that muscle strength, walking speed, reactions, verbal fluency and memory were all better now among the elderly subjects they studied.
  • The essential conclusion was that older people today look, act and think younger than their counterparts from nearly 30 years ago.

How it works: The major difference between the two cohorts seemed to be the environments in which they grew up and grew older.

  • More activity over a lifetime meant that today's seniors were stronger and faster, while generally higher levels of education translated into superior cognitive performance.
  • The results suggest increasing life expectancy also means more years of higher-quality life — essentially an extended middle age.

Yes, but: Those extra high-quality years in the middle add up, but they also mean that the last years of life are now more likely to occur in very old age, increasing the need for expensive care.

"Among the aging population, two simultaneous changes are happening: continuation of healthy years to higher ages and an increased number of very old people who need external care."
— Taina Rantanen, University of Jyväskylä

The bottom line: As someone just on the other side of numerical midlife, I'll take it.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Dec 21, 2020 - Economy & Business

The world's dual realities could harden in 2021

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Heading into 2021, the economy is in a state of gross divergence, presenting opposing narratives that are drifting further apart, creating ostensible winners' and losers' brackets.

Why it matters: The pandemic has accelerated shifts in the economic makeup of the U.S. and the world. Those trends are being further cemented.

Off the Rails

Episode 4: Trump turns on Barr

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer, Pool/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 4: Trump torches what is arguably the most consequential relationship in his Cabinet.

Attorney General Bill Barr stood behind a chair in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, looming over Donald Trump. The president sat at the head of the table. It was Dec. 1, nearly a month after the election, and Barr had some sharp advice to get off his chest. The president's theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were "bullshit."

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.