In the modern age, many things are to be celebrated – one is that we are all living longer lives.
But, with so many of us living longer, it does bring challenges to us as individuals and to health systems worldwide – by 2030, 1 in 6 people will be aged 60 years or over.
Ageing, as defined by the World Health Organization, is at a ‘biological level’ , the results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease and ultimately death.’
The prevalence of age-related disease and health conditions – including neurodegenerative diseases (think Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease), cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic diseases (diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity) – is only going to rise, putting strains on health care systems, and making life miserable for many.
To continue the happy news, as we age, we’re also more likely to have more than one of these issues – with many conditions leading to other risks, such as high blood pressure increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
That all sounds a bit depressing. But it doesn’t have to be…
So why is it not all bad?
Ageing, once only classified as a natural and universal process, is more widely viewed as a disease process. This implies that there is increasing awareness and understanding of lifestyle determinants of ageing. As a collective, we know significantly more about the impact of how we live our lives will determine how we age.
It is recognised that there are aspects of ageing both within and outside of an individual’s control – for example, gender and genetics play a part in the ageing process. Also, although unfair and avoidable, various health inequalities exist in society, such as low income, education, access to green space, healthy food, and the housing we live in.
But there is plenty we can control and affect to ensure we ‘age well.’
What can I do to support healthy ageing?
Get and stay active
Taking care of your physical health is pretty obvious to most of us. This has a few distinct aspects. Whether you love or loathe it, being active and exercising is the cornerstone of healthy ageing. Studies have demonstrated a reduction in the risk of disease with regular exercise and prolonging your life. Not only this, but exercise improves your stamina, balance, and strength, thus reducing fall risk and keeping you more able to stay active and engaged in society as you get older.
Eating a healthy diet significantly contributes to physical health and ageing well. Did you know women in the Okinawa region of Japan have a life expectancy of 87.44? Japan also has a lower-than-average rate of cardiovascular disease, in part due to traditional diets consisting of healthy fish.
Improved cardiac health has also been associated with the Mediterranean diet and is likely to play a part in healthy ageing.
A poor diet, including convenience and processed foods, is linked to obesity and diabetes, alongside systemic inflammation, which can have widespread implications on general health.
Don’t delay seeing your doctor
Don’t ignore your free NHS health check for those aged 40-74. This can be a means of picking up silent health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease and allowing treatment to start avoiding complications in later life.
If you notice health changes or have been feeling unwell, conversing with your doctor is always better than ignoring new symptoms. People with access to Teladoc Health virtual care services can seek advice on a huge range of topics, from Nutrition, Physio, GP consultations, and Mental Health. Our Second Medical Opinion service also enables people to review medical diagnosis and treatment plans with one of our 50,000 global medical experts.
Smoking and Drinking
Smoking not only causes a risk for premature facial ageing but increases your chance of early death. Smoking causes 7 out of every 10 cases of lung cancer. It also causes cancer in many other body parts, including the mouth and throat. Smoking also causes heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Drinking in moderation is fine, but drinking excessively can cause numerous health conditions and liver disease. Recent research has also suggested that drinking may play a role in accelerating the biological ageing process.
Leisure activities and hobbies
Hobbies and activities are not only fun but help us avoid isolation. They are also great for mental and physical health and may lower your risk for some health conditions. Some studies have linked regular hobbies and activities to reducing the risk of dementia.
Train and look after your cognitive health
Our ability to clearly think, learn, and remember contributes to quality of life as we age. This is evidence that learning a new skill can improve memory function.
Research continues to explore which lifestyle factors impact our cognitive health as we age.
A study in 2020 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32554763/) demonstrated that those who followed at least four of the following health lifestyle behaviours had a 60% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Engagement in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, writing letters, and playing games, also supports cognitive stimulation.
One significant aspect is to do the good things consistently – so making it fun, not too taxing, and rewarding often gets the best results today, tomorrow, and in the future, so you can still be doing cartwheels into your 90s!