If you didn’t know how old you are… how old would you think you are?
Your age tells us little about your health, well-being, appearance, energy levels or your physical fitness. As the saying goes: “You’re as old as you feel”.
Some people look and act much older than they are all the time – they seem to have aged prematurely! But others look remarkable, exude energy and exuberance – and look at least 10 years younger than they actually are.
Life expectancy figures have changed dramatically during this century.
In 1900 less than half the population lived to 65 whilst today around 80% live beyond 65 and over 50% live to see their 80th birthday. In fact, by the year 2000, it’s predicted that the fastest growing section of the population will be the over-85s.
However, although these trends are generally welcomed, there is great concern about the growing numbers of elderly people whose quality of life is severely affected by chronic illness and disease. Indeed, the US National Centre for Health Statistics estimates that 20% of the average American’s life is spent in an ‘unhealthy’ state affected by disabilities, injuries and/or disease. That’s over 15 years of illness! And for the majority of us most of that occurs in our later years. For example, amongst the over-65s – around 50% suffer from arthritis, 30% have high blood pressure, 26% suffer heart disease and 25% have problems with bones and joints. But it’s worth remembering that many of these problems may start much earlier in life.
Whilst some illnesses, accidents and injuries strike without warning, it is now well established that leading a healthy lifestyle can have a major influence on both our life expectancy and our quality of life as we get older.
One famous US study, conducted on over 6,000 people in San Francisco showed a dramatic difference in disabling illnesses and death rate between those who followed SEVEN simple health habits and those who did not.
The health habits associated with both longevity and quality of life were:
- Not smoking – smoking is without doubt dangerous to your health. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, try your very best to stop.
- Regular exercise -it’s a staggering fact that you can reduce your risk of a heart attack by almost 50% by taking regular exercise – walking, gardening, swimming, dancing, golf, bowls, cycling, keep fit, etc. Regular aerobic activity supplemented by resistance exercises retains or restores mobility and the capacity for a free and independent life well into advancing years. In fact those who age successfully invariably engage in daily routines that require physical activity.
- Weight control – when weight is more than 20% above or more than 10% below desirable, then health status declines. Keeping your weight in check is an invaluable way of staying healthy as time goes by.
- Moderate alcohol consumption – whilst poor health is associated with heavy alcohol consumption, research shows that those who drink in moderation have lower levels of certain disease, such as heart disease. However, this should not be construed as a broad endorsement of drinking alcohol, since even moderate levels may lead to liver disease in the longer term. The best advice is to drink moderately or not at all – and don’t save the weekends for a binge!
- A good daily breakfast – in the California study, those who regularly ate a good breakfast – rather than just a cup of coffee or tea – experienced better health. Breakfast normally comes around 12 hours after the last (evening) meal when the body is in need of an energy boost.
- Regular meals – the study showed that erratic eaters and ‘snackers’ had poorer health than those who had regular meals. The regular meal-eaters tended to eat more healthy wholesome foods, whilst the ‘snackers’ were junk food eaters high in simple sugar & saturated fats and low in nutrients.
- Adequate sleep – those who slept 7-8 hours per night were generally healthier than those who slept 6 hours or less (or, interestingly those who slept 9 hours or more per night!). Sleep is characterised by a series of alternating stages of rapid eye movement (REM) and quiet. The REM stage is often accompanied by dreams and by changes in heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tone. It accounts for around 20% of the night’s total and if it is interrupted we get anxious and irritable. The deeper and quieter periods provide the rest necessary to recover from fatigue. The body seems to be able to handle missing the occasional night’s sleep but if sleep is disturbed on several nights, the REM sleep stage is increased leading to restless and uncomfortable nights. Moderate exercise helps the body fall into deep sleep without altering the REM pattern. However, too much exercise can adversely affect our sleep patterns.
The Californian study showed that following just SIX of these habits we can add 10 YEARS to our lives. What’s more those following all seven health habits were found to suffer HALF the rates of illness, injury and disability compared to those who did not practice any of them. Leading a healthy lifestyle can not only add years to your life but can greatly increase your quality of life in later years.
However, this information is not just aimed at people in their retirement years – it’s aimed at ALL of us. Leading a healthy and active lifestyle will help ensure that we give ourselves the best chance possible of good health and fitness in the future.