Does our new president’s age matter?

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Donald J. Trump

Donald J. Trump

Donald Trump became the oldest person to take the presidential oath of office of Jan. 20. At age 70, he’s older by one year than Ronald Reagan was when sworn in.

As we know from before and after photos of former presidents, it’s a stressful job that causes visible and invisible signs of aging. Should we be concerned about Trump’s age and the effects of the job on his health?

The Washington Post offers an in-depth look at this question, including insights from aging experts Steve Austad, scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research and Nir Barzilai , director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Austad hints that job stress may be harder on a 70-something than a younger person, but is taking takes a wait-and-see approach. Barzilai points out that acquiring multiple conditions become more common with age, so that’s something to watch for.  For more on this, check out this story from the 2016 Disease Drivers of Aging Summit in New York City.

Trump’s family history is generally an advantage – his mother lived until age 88, and his father lived until age 93, albeit with Alzheimer’s disease. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases if a parent or other close relative had it, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Then there’s diet and exercise. Like former president Bill Clinton (who has since become a vegan), Trump is fond of fast food, as he told CNN early in the campaign. McDonald’s and KFC were mentioned as favorites. As Stat news reported, his personal physician released a one-page letter which cited Trump’s health as “astonishingly excellent.” That drew skepticism from many of his rivals and the media. The American Heart Association’s BMI calculator shows that his 236-pound weight on a 6-foot 3-inch frame gives him a body mass index of 29.4, which makes him overweight and “presents a moderate risk for cardiovascular disease. A BMI of about 25 corresponds to about 10 percent over ideal body weight.” The only outlet where he’s discussed his health report is The Doctor Oz show and even then, did not delve into many specifics.

While Trump likes to play golf, it doesn’t seem he gets much other exercise, and certainly not regularly. Yet, we know that exercise plays a key role in both healthy aging and in stress management, among its many other benefits. Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and even Bill Clinton strove to maintain regimens of regular vigorous workouts to help manage the demands of the job and long days of sitting in meetings. Even so, Bush was diagnosed in 2013 with severe arterial blockage, requiring insertion of a stent and Clinton underwent a quadruple bypass in 2004. All three were much younger than President Trump is now when they left office.

We can take Trump’s word for how healthy he is; we can look for clues in his physician’s report. But the truth is, we don’t really know much, except that he takes a low-dose aspirin and a statin, both common prophylaxis for 70-year-old men.  While the Post story accurately points out that Trump’s socioeconomic status has netted him health advantages over many of those he now governs, it’s unclear whether that is enough to protect his health for the next four years.  It will be interesting to track how the aging process plays out on our oldest commander in chief, at the same time that health care for millions of others will change or perhaps disappear completely.

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