A Longer and Healthier Life
It is never too late to make a change
As mentioned above more people are living longer, but, unfortunately a large share of those over the age of 65 have health conditions such as heart disease, dementia, diabetes, cancer or respiratory disease that limits their wellbeing.
Simple changes in lifestyle and behaviour, especially if done during youth or middle age will enable more years spent in good health, independence and wellbeing during the "ripe old age.
These changes involve eliminating unhealthy behaviours such as drinking alcohol, being sedentary, over eating and smoking.
An Aging World - But not in America
By 2050 there will be 395 million people aged 80 or more across the world. The average life expectancy in the OECD countries (a group of developed countries that includes Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Japan, the US and the U.K.) has increased and now stands at 80.3 years. (Woolf and Aron, 2018) ( 1 )
However the average life expectancy for Americans has dropped for a second year in a row: in 2018 it is 78.7 years.
In 1960, Americans had the highest life expectancy, 2.4 years higher than the OECD average, but by 1998 it had fallen below the OECD average.
The main reasons are deaths due to the opioid epidemic, drugs, alcohol, a rise in suicide rate and the negative impacts of obesity:
Preston, Vierboom and Stokesb (2018) ( 2 ) estimate that the rising BMI or Body Mass Index is responsible for 11.7% of the deaths in the 40 to 84 years age interval; obesity caused 186,000 excess deaths in 2011 alone.
Physical activity has many benefits regardless of your age. It helps you keep fit, slim and improves your overall cardiovascular and lung performance.
Bone mass is retained and better circulation improves oxygen supply to the body, muscles and joints. Flexibilty and muscle mass are preserved.
You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, aim for at least 40 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity at least 3 to 4 days a week.
Moderate intensity is when you are a bit short of breath but you can still talk as you exercise.
Strength training with weights will add mass to muscles and bones.
Check with your doctor before starting any physical activity plan, start slowly and build up gradually (don't hurt yourself by overdoing it).
Use the buddy system: Ask a friend to start an exercise program with you. It does not mean going to the gym either. There are many options to keeping active such as walking, dancing, cycling, swimming, gardening, bowling or gardening.
Quit Smoking: it is never to late do do it
Smoking tobacco can cause many health problems and death. The longer you smoke, the higher the risk of developing a tobacco-related illness.
Smoking shortens life expectancy: each year of smoking after the age of 35-40 shaves off three months from you lifespan.
This is a change you should do before growing old. Quitting tobacco in your middle age improves your life expectancy by 10 years! And not only that, it will ensure an old age free of chronic diseases caused by smoking such as Emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Smokers have higher chances of developing life threatening conditions such as:
- Lung, mouth and throat cancers
- Heart attack
Find help and information on how to quit smoking at the smokefree.gov website
Cut back on Alcohol
Reduce your alcohol intake to the limits established by the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans: consume alcohol in moderation -up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, and this not an average, it is the maximum daily amount. ( 5 )
Alcohol causes liver cirrhosis and increases the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer's).
As you age your liver is less able to process alcohol, so alcohol concentration in your blood will remain higher for longer.
Heavy drinking damages your liver, stomach and heart. It can provoke insomnia, depression, confusion and increase the chances of accidents. It deteriorates interpersonal relationships and can interact with medicines with potentially harmful effects.
Never drink and drive.
Prescribed and over-the-counter drugs interact with other medicines and drugs, and also with alcohol. Make sure you know what medicine you are taking and their interactions.
Eat a Healthy diet
A balanced and healthy diet will help ward off both malnutrition and obesity.
As you age the body's metabolic rate slows down and requires less energy to function, adjust caloric intake to maintain your weight.
Diet helps reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and some types of cancers.
Your diet should include at least three servings of vegetables and two of fruit, whole grain breads and cereals with plenty of fiber; milk, dairy products, meat, fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes and eggs.
Reduce your salt intake and avoid low quality carbs such as cakes, biscuits or sweets.
Keep hydrated -dehydration is a risk among older people. (Visit our webpage on Dehydration, to learn how to prevent it).
A balanced diet with the correct nutrients will help you keep a healthy weight and provide you with energy for your daily chores.
Emotional Wellbeing: Mind and Soul
Friends and Social Networks
Social isolation is a problem among older people because friends die or move to assisted living facilities or homes. This increases the risk of loneliness which in turn increases the risk of premature death:
A study by Holt-Lunstad et al., (2015) ( 6 ) found tha the risk of death increased by 29% for those who were socially isolated, by 26% by those feeling lonely and by 32% for those living alone.
Keep connected with your peers (you can bee isolated even if you are surrounded by other people), keep up and about and it will help to reduce stress and stimulate your brain (social interactions require communication, facial expression decoding and listening and answering).
Reading, taking a course, studying a new language and doing things that keep your brain active will ward off dementia as proven by a recent study by Lee et al., (2018) ( 7 ) involving 15,582 individuals with an age of 65 years or older. The study found that "Daily participation in intellectual activities was associated with a significantly lower risk of dementia ... Active participation in intellectual activities, even in late life, might help prevent dementia in older adults.".
Alzheimer's disease is more related to genetics and lifestyle choices than brain stimulating activities, but it probably won't hurt to challenge the brain with new intellectual activities to keep it active.
Personality and life history shape our outlook as we age. Some people are naturally optimistic, others see the galss half empty.
There is evidence that optimists fare better than pessimists when it comes to aging: Wurm S and Benyamini Y. (2014) ( 8 ) found that "People who were prepared for physical losses (negative SPA), and who were nevertheless optimistic, were better able to maintain better physical functioning, and lower depressive symptoms".
Positive attitudes also help to ward off depression and keep people from engaging in unhealthy behaviors (alcoholism, over eating, sedentary lifestyle).
Last but not least
As you grow older, follow your regular health check up schedule and also have your eye health and hearing checked, keep good oral health and have your shots for flu and shingles.
Old age is the time of life when the wisdom and skills acquired over a long lifetime can be shared with friends, family and the community.
It is a stage of life which can be enjoyed despite the changes caused by aging. It is not necessarily a period of mental or physical decline. Age-related conditions can be prevented and delayed by some simple lifestyle changes such as keeping active, eating a healthy diet and kicking bad habits such as smoking and drinking. Keeping socially active, and doing brain stimulating activites with a positive outlook will promote wellbeing and prevent dementia.
Cite this article:
A. Whittall. ©2018. Aging Well. Patagonia Wellness, Oct. 23 2018. http://www.patagoniawellness.com/wellness/aging-well.html
Subject: Aging Well Positive changes in lifestyle and behaviour can improve mental and physical wellness as you grow older.
References and Further Reading
(1) Steven H Woolf, Laudan Aron, (2018). Failing health of the United States. BMJ 2018; 360 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k496 (07 February 2018) BMJ 2018;360:k496
(2) Samuel H. Preston, Yana C. Vierboom and Andrew Stokes, (2018). The role of obesity in exceptionally slow US mortality improvement. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Jan 30; 115(5): 957-961. 2018 Jan 16. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1716802115
(3) Health Education (HealthEd) New ZealandAgeing well: How to be the best you can be. Revised March 2017. 06/2018. Code HE1148 ISBN 978-0-478-41166-9 (online)
(4) Charles Alessi and Elaine Rashbrook, (2016). Ageing well: how can we make longer lives healthier?. Public Health England Posted on: 1 October 2016
(5) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017)Fact Sheets - Moderate Drinking. last updated: July 25, 2017
(6) Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris T, Stephenson D, (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015 Mar;10(2):227-37. doi: 10.1177/1745691614568352
(7) Allen T. C. Lee, et al., (2018). Association of Daily Intellectual Activities With Lower Risk of Incident Dementia Among Older Chinese Adults. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018;75(7):697-703. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0657
(8) Wurm S and Benyamini Y., (2014). Optimism buffers the detrimental effect of negative self-perceptions of ageing on physical and mental health. Psychol Health. 2014;29(7):832-48. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2014.891737. Epub 2014 Mar 17