The other evening I went to a talk given by an economist on public policy for an ageing society. It’s always good to hear from someone looking at ageing from a different view-point. He pointed out that there are two basic ingredients to longevity. One is our genes about which we can currently do nothing, the other is our lifestyle which we do have control over. He talked in terms of healthy living in terms of adding to the length of time we have on earth, as you would expect an economist to do. We can’t look at this without also realising that if we eat well and keep ourselves fit we will not only live longer but it will be enjoyable living. I believe someone in the United Nations referred to us not just adding years to life but adding life to years.
I am not sure that there is much point in us living longer if we are not enjoying it. If we don’t look after our health through eating well and keeping fit we are more likely to spend the very last part of our lives combatting immobility and pain.
The problem at present is that many of us grew up and matured before the current fitness awareness hit society so that many of us are unfamiliar with the exercises accompanying this. Should we be familiar with weights and be using them for example? Apparently problems like osteoporosis and balance can be improved by appropriate exercises but where are older people able to learn about them? Such preventive measures would save huge amounts of pain and hospitalisation. One of the great medical advances of the last century was the awareness of preventive medicine yet as a society we still don’t recognise the advantages of it. I would love to think that in the future appropriate fitness programs will be available for everyone over 65. It we followed them we could save ourselves and the country huge amounts of money and help us to feel better about ourselves and our ageing. Unfortunately that doesn’t even seem to be on the horizon. I’m probably criticising the medical profession a bit harshly but they still seem to be in a ‘find a pill for it’ mode for every problem. I remember the days when they treated illnesses and it was a huge step forward when they started treating patients, recognising that there was a human behind the problem presented! Hopefully they won’t take too long to realise that prescribing a pill, even if an appropriate one exists, isn’t necessarily the complete answer, particularly when we take the side effects of many pills into account.
People must realise that no matter what their background, including economists and the medical profession, they too will be an older person one day and it’s not a good idea to wait until it happens to them to realise there are unnecessary problems.
We can’t alter our genes but we can determine our lifestyles but we need help and knowledge to achieve the maximum benefits in our later years.