man's portrait

Aging Like a Centenarian

man's portraitIt seems the older we get, the more time we spend thinking about our aging bodies. And, the more time we spend thinking about our aging bodies, the more we realize that aging well requires a fair amount of body maintenance. And while, to date, there’s been no Fountain of Youth gene discovery, thanks to some good research and alternative methods, we continue to learn about how we can make all of our years as happy and healthy as possible.

But are we applying what we know? According to the latest CDC statistics, the answer is a dismal “no.”

  • More than 52% of adults don’t meet minimum requirements for aerobic exercise, and 76% don’t meet the minimum requirements for muscle-strengthening exercise.

  • Almost half of all adults have at least one risk factor for health disease or stroke.

  • 38% of adults eat fruit less than once per day, and 23% eat vegetables less than once per day.

  • 42 million adults currently smoke cigarettes.

  • 38 million adults report binge drinking an average of 4 times per month, with an average 8 drinks per binge.

These lifestyle habits not only accelerate the aging process. They are disabling and killing us. About half of all adults have at least one chronic health condition. One quarter of American adults have two or more. These chronic diseases account for 7 out of every 10 deaths.

But, to be sure, personal choice and lifestyle is just one part of the picture. According to a recent report from the World Health Organization, in 2012, an estimated 12.6 million people died, globally, as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment. That’s nearly 1 in 4 people.

Environmental risk factors contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries. These include air, soil, and water pollution; chemical exposures; climate change; and ultraviolet radiation.

“There’s an urgent need for investment in strategies to reduce environmental risks in our cities, homes and workplaces”, said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Such investments can significantly reduce the rising worldwide burden of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, injuries, and cancers, and lead to immediate savings in healthcare costs.”

As WHO’s Director-General put it, “A healthy environment underpins a healthy population. If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young.”

Clearly, a healthy environment is as critical for healthier people as lifestyle choice is.

Aging well isn’t likely to happen as the result of taking this supplement or that, gorging on this “superfood” or that, running marathons or any other single, particular thing. Though these things may be helpful, aging well is the consequence of our lives’ composite, the sum of all we do. Some of it is within our control; some of it, not.

But no matter what your age, if you begin with the intention to live your strongest, longest life, you can make progress. While no one can guarantee that lifestyle changes mean you’ll go on to become a centenarian, it can be your goal.

And, rather than drudgery, incorporating simple changes can be a joyful way to living gracefully into our oldest age.

Image by Nacho Rascón, via Flickr