I recently posted a photo to my Instagram (@larissajanenaturopathy) of 4 generations of women in my family - my mother, myself, my daughter and my granddaughter. It made me think about longevity and what's important about living a long life. There's a big emphasis on looking young as you age, but does that really mean that you age well?
What does 'ageing well' mean and when does it begin?
It really starts the minute your born - earlier if I'm being pedantic. The health of your parents plays a vital role in your future health, and your susceptibility to some chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in later life. This is further exacerbated by some of the environmental determinants of health such as poor nutrition and exposure to toxins during your childhood. But most of the detrimental effects on your health occur in adulthood when you take control of your life and are responsible for your choices. I think we are often led to believe that our health is determined by luck or that it costs lots of money to be healthy. As mainstream medicine as developed, there has been a greater emphasis on individual diseases and the organs or systems they impact - heart disease is only about your cardiovascular system, endometriosis is only about your reproductive system. We have stepped away from applying a holistic lens to our health that aims to uncover the underlying imbalances, and instead opt for drugs and/or surgery that remove or manage the problem. This often means that we continue to do the things that are causing the imbalance in the first place - eating the high sugar diet, having no rest or down time, being exposed to toxic chemicals.
And even though hospitals have become more advanced and people are now living longer than ever, does that mean that we are living well?
I think it's really important that we ask ourselves this question because how you live now will determine how well you live in your older years. The World Health Organization has reported that despite the recent pandemic, chronic disease is still the greatest cause of morbidity and mortality world-wide. At the same time, it says that the majority of these diseases are attributed to poor diet and lifestyle, and can be prevented by improving these factors.
So now that we are starting to return to our normal routines and not so worried about our immediate health, it could be a good time to start to think about our long-term health and how we would like to live as we age. Some of the factors that I've been thinking about for myself include:
mobility and being able to be independent and strong. This includes joints, muscle and bone health
cognition and memory
immunity and susceptibility to acute infections
maintaining healthy body weight and metabolic health
prevention of chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease
Your list may be different, but I think that living independently and free of pain is a priority for most people.
What's also interesting to consider is the financial cost of health as you age. Many people consider that investing in healthy food or preventative healthcare is a waste of money. Unfortunately, this can be a false economy as the cost of disease management is ultimately much higher and often without much improvement in quality of life.
If you knew that choices you are currently making about what you eat, where you live and how you spend you time will have an effect on your future health, would you make different decisions?