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Our Health: Is the West best for older Americans?

(MCT) — Pew Research Center doesn't know what to make of it.

Demographers are mulling the possibility that the nation is tilted and fruits and nuts do indeed roll West.

But seniors living in the 13 Western states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming know it's true:

—The West is home to the highest concentration of older adults in the United States who don't think of themselves as old.

—Fully 78 percent of adults 65-plus who live in the West say they don't feel old compared to 67 percent in the rest of the nation.

"It's a big survey — 2,969 older adults — and we see these interesting patterns by region," says Paul Taylor, editor of the Pew Research Center surveys in Washington, D.C. "But I must tell you we are not quite sure what to make of the conclusions.

"We know adults in the West are more transient than other regions, and there is more physical separation from families. But there is no sweeping judgment we can make from these numbers."

So what did the older Americans tell Pew researchers?

Two-thirds of Westerners 65-plus say they feel younger than their chronological years, compared with 57 percent of older Americans in other regions.

Half of the older Westerners say they feel 10 or more years younger than their actual age, and one-in-five say they feel 20 or more years younger.

72 percent of those living in the West say they are in excellent or good health, compared with 63 percent in other regions.

Older Westerners get more exercise than those living elsewhere. Some 77 percent report physical exercise on a typical day compared with 69 percent elsewhere. However, a follow-up question about whether the exercise is rigorous or not finds no statistically significant difference by region, Pew reports.

Pew researchers found broad similarities in all regions on attitudes and experiences related to the aging process but notable difference in the

West when it comes to residential mobility, family relationships and living arrangements.

For example, older Americans in the West are more likely than anywhere else to have moved at least once in their lives. Last year, a Pew survey found only 23 percent of Westerners 62-plus had lived in their current communities their entire lives, compared to roughly a third of those living in the South and about 40 percent of older adults in the Northeast and Midwest.

So what's the result of this mobility?

It creates some distance between older adults in the West and their families.

Older adults who have children and live in the Northeast (53 percent), Midwest (59 percent) or South (58 percent) say they are in touch with a son or daughter daily, either in person, by phone or e-mail.

By contrast only 41 percent of adults living in the West are in touch with adult children on a daily basis.

This does not mean Westerners and their children don't get along, Taylor says. Westerners are, however, twice as likely as those living elsewhere to reside in an age restricted community (16 percent compared to 8 percent in other regions).

Is there a drawback to the wide open spaces?

Of course. Westerners say they get no respect for being old. Only 44 percent of Western seniors say they get respect compared to more than 60 percent of those living elsewhere.

What does Pew conclude? Older Americans say excellent health, confidence their money will last through retirement years and having friends add up to the strongest predictors of happiness.

And those with the best health, confidence and friends live in the West.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.