by Dr. Mehmet Oz & Dr. Michael Roizen
Controversy blossomed this week surrounding the health of our presidential candidates. That's because we're heading into this fall's presidential election knowing relatively little about the medical history of either major-party candidate, and at 68 and 70, respectively, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would be among the oldest people ever elected to the office of the president. Ronald Reagan, the oldest so far, was 69 when he was elected to his first term, 73 for his second term, and 77 when he left office. Only 10 of our 43 presidents entered office older than 60.
For many of us, the health of the president is an important issue when casting our ballots. While we don't and shouldn't take someone's age or health into consideration when hiring for a typical job, the role of the president is an extraordinary position. Health is also one of our nation's most important issues, and a healthy president sets a better example for us all to follow.
Some say that in this election, the health of the candidates is even more important than ever, because of their chronological age. We understand this concern, because aging can definitely affect stamina and mental quickness. On average, we (kidneys, liver, heart, even bone mass, and brain functioning) decline 5 percent every 10 years. So by age 70, your IQ is, on average, 20% lower than at age 30. In addition, we have examined the medical records of all of the presidents since Teddy Roosevelt and found that after someone gets into the Oval Office, they age two years for every one year on the job.
But while the calendar age of Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump would traditionally qualify them as elderly, today we also know that a president's real age is more important than his/her chronological age. Your real age is determined by your habits and environment. For those who engage in the healthiest habits and are in the healthiest environments, 70 truly is the new 45. As a result of improvements in public health and medicine, all Americans, on average, live much longer than when we elected our first president 227 years ago. Over just the last 100 years, average life expectancy has increased more than 20 years, from around 55 in 1916 to nearly 79 today.
These life expectancy numbers are typically based on averages, but no matter your political preference, everyone can surely agree that our presidential candidates are far from average in many ways. We know that social determinants, such as educational level and income, are among the most important factors for longevity. The more education you have, where you live, and your job correlate with how long you live and how healthy you are. According to research, women and men with 16 or more years of education (Secretary Clinton has 19 and Mr. Trump has 16) are expected to have an increase in life span as much as 8 and 13 years respectively. In addition, those in the highest income brackets (again, this includes both candidates) have been estimated to have a life expectancy about 14.6 years longer than those in the lowest income brackets. These social advantages suggest that both candidates are likely to have a longer life expectancy than most voters - a fact that we hope the winning candidate will address while in office so as to improve the health of everyone in our nation.
Fortunately, healthy habits in our control are even more important for our health than our social situation. Data from the nation's biggest health studies, including the Nurse's Health Study, the Health Professional's Study, and the Medicare Studies suggest that chronic disease is reduced by 80-90% and cognitive function improved in people who engage in the "six healthy habits" and are up-to-date on their immunizations. The more of these healthy habits you have, the younger relative to your calendar age you are. We estimate that someone who has all six of these habits has the cognitive abilities of someone more than ten years younger than their chronological age. These six healthy habits include eating right, managing stress, being socially connected, being physically active, avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol, and getting enough sleep. While we don't have perfect data on the candidate's health and all of their habits, we can make some inferences from what we've seen in the media.
Just the act of actively campaigning for the past 16 or so months indicates that the candidates are able to tolerate substantial stress. They are both very social and connected to strong, supportive families and the people they meet every day. Secretary Clinton enjoys exercising regularly and Mr. Trump plays golf. We would bet that they also both get in a lot of steps pounding the pavement and shaking hands. We also know that neither candidate smokes nor drinks much, if any, alcohol. Now, according to reports in the media, when it comes to eating, Secretary Clinton (who tries to eat healthfully) may be doing a better job than Mr. Trump (who often eats fast food), and neither of them is getting much sleep. While we don't have all of their data, it's fair to say that they are both mentally sharper than the "average" person with their chronological age, and from a health perspective, likely fit to be president.