Can we delay ageing? Yes, and yes. A positive and constructive approach to managing your life can materially enhance your ongoing life quality. But it requires commitment, homework and help. At any age you can improve your lot. It’s the prime chance to get better.
A clear example of the impact of sound lifestyle behaviours comes from a 2018 review by a division of Harvard Medical School of evidence from two huge United States studies commenced in the 1970s. The first, the Nurses’ Health Study, followed over 78,000 women, for 34 years, and the second, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, followed 45,000 men for 28 years. Defining five independent good healthy habits (non-smoking, exercise, good diet, healthy body weight and light alcohol consumption), the researchers showed, for those adopting the five healthy practices compared to those who followed none, they lived longer, healthier lives.
From the age of 50, females adopting the five good habits enjoyed an additional 14 years of life and the males 12 years.
The overall message is that such simple healthy lifestyle habits can have a profound impact on your life. If only one of the five habits was adopted, life expectancy increased by two years. But if all were followed, on average 12 to 14 years of good living were gained. Not a bad trade for a 50-year-old.
Multiple studies have shown that diet, exercise, mental stimulation, relationships and social networks, along with adequate money, each can contribute to a longer and healthy life, providing you work at it. A daily workout once a month doesn’t cut it.
A growing discourse has been focused on the anti-ageing innovations of many academic groups. If you can extend lifespan in animals, then why not in humans? And if so, will the associated diseases of ageing also be curtailed? The anti-ageing pill is awaited with panting enthusiasm (see Chapter 11).
Although we all age, there are wide differences in the pace of change between different individuals and communities. Considerable research has examined the reasons for those differences. A major focus is to distinguish normal ageing from disease, and to explore why older adults are increasingly vulnerable to disease and disability. As one sports example, marathon runners, irrespective of fitness, get slower as they age. Ageing is the one factor they cannot control, and performance follows that path of decline. Why?
We can slow the ageing process, but we can’t prevent it.
From Ageing Well: How to Navigate Life’s Journey in Your Later Years by Dr Doug Wilson, published with permission of Calico Publishing.