Wining & Dining
Time is on Your Side Secrets for Healthy Aging
9/1/2020 1:00:00 PM

Time is on your side

The idea that from midlife on it’s all downhill is as out-of-date as VCRs, cassette tapes and flip phones.

Life isn’t over at 50; in fact 50 really might be the new 30. Aging experts agree that reaching the 50-year milestone signals the beginning of the second half of life, only today’s 50-year-olds have the wisdom, experience, resources and time to make their second 50 their best 50.

Dr. Andrew Bradberry, family medicine doctor with Imperial Health, says many people dread the thought of aging, worried that their bodies and minds will fail them as they age. "This is actually a common myth: the older you get, the sicker you have to be. Study after study shows that most of the factors that determine whether you will have healthy and successful senior years are in your hands long before your hair starts turning gray.” 

There was a time when the idea of blowing out 100 candles on a birthday cake seemed impossible. In 1900, life expectancy in the United States was three decades shorter than it is today. Antibiotics, better sanitation, and improved medical care deserve much of the credit for the increase. The average life expectancy at birth is now over 78 years, according to the U.S. Census. Even better, the longer you live, the longer you’ll probably live, explains Dr. Bradberry. "Research shows if you live to celebrate certain milestones of age, your life expectancy actually expands. On average, a 65-year-old would have nearly 18 more years to live, while an 85-year-old would have about six years longer. That’s pretty eye-opening to most people.” 

If your goal is healthy longevity, you may be focused on decreasing your cholesterol and blood pressure to prevent heart disease, the number one killer of Americans.  And while these are obviously important, Dr. Bradberry says you may need to adjust your strategy to include some other lifestyle aspects – some of which might surprise you.  

The ongoing results of a landmark study continue to shine light on what factors impact healthy aging. The "Harvard Study of Adult Development” is the longest, most comprehensive examination of aging ever conducted. It began in the 1930s, with researchers studying several large groups of men and women, following them from adolescence into old age, and seeking clues to the behaviors that translate into happy and healthy longevity. 

In many cases, the results were not even what the investigators themselves anticipated. Although some of the ingredients for longevity are genetically determined, the mountains of data gathered from the Harvard study and numerous others about aging show that the individual controls many other factors. Perhaps the biggest surprise identified is how much influence personal behavior has on health and life span. Changes that a doctor or a scientist once might have labeled an inevitable part of growing older —such as high blood pressure, joint pain, and memory loss — are now considered pathology, not biology.

Experts now believe that more than two-thirds of the factors that control how a person will fare in later life are determined by lifestyle factors such as diet, mental and physical exercise and meaningful existence. 

"This means living a long and productive life is within most people’s grasp if they have the knowledge of what to do and the motivation to do it,” says Dr. Bradberry.  "You must have the desire and means to avoid and treat disease, sustain a high level of mental and physical function, and engage actively in life. Successful aging is not simply a matter of genes or fate. There are no guarantees, but staying active and making healthy choices can pave the way for a long, vital life.”

The Harvard study found the following factors to be most predictive of whether you’d move successfully through middle age and into your 80s:

  • Avoiding cigarettes
  • Resiliency - good adjustment or coping skills; positive outlook
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining strong social relationships 
  • Pursuing education; staying mentally active

If the elements of healthy aging aren’t currently a part of your lifestyle, Dr. Bradberry says it’s never too late to start. "Think of it like an investment plan. The earlier you start saving, the better, but regardless of your age, it’s still worth doing. Every one of us can make changes that can move us in the direction of a healthier, longer life.”

Posted by: Kristy Armand | Submit comment | Tell a friend




© Copyright 2021, Thrive Magazine. All rights reserved.