When you’re young, you feel invincible- you take risks, you shrug off minor injuries and illnesses, and you throw yourself into work and pleasure, often burning the candle at both ends. As you get a little older, you get a little more cautious, perhaps abandon some riskier behaviors, and settle down a bit. Get older still, and perhaps some of the actions of your youth you’ll be able to feel in your body. Perhaps you used to go on long backpacking trips- now your knees and back ache all of the time. Perhaps you broke a bone or two while playing sports- now those bones give you some trouble while trying to perform daily tasks. Perhaps you used to attend loud concerts- now you find it a little hard to hear your wife or kids. Perhaps you didn’t really care what your diet was composed of- now it’s a lot harder to keep the weight off and your blood pressure is a bit high. The human body is not quite like an automobile- you don’t start depreciating as soon as you drive it off the lot, but there comes a point where rather than continue to grow, your body begins a long, subtle decline- aging. This doesn’t mean life is over after your early 20s, far from it. Most people continue to thrive for many long years more- finding the best times of their lives ahead of them, achieving their dreams, starting a family, and reinventing themselves as they experience the fullness of life. Your body, however, also has lifelong memory. Those bumps, breaks, and binges of your youth might be felt more acutely as you age.
In general, we are living longer than we once did. Although there is always the danger of an event like the COVID pandemic causing a dip in average lifespan, each generation tends to live longer than the generation before. In the past 100 years, Americans’ average lifespan has increased by about 25 years. “At the turn of the 20th century, life expectancy at birth was only 46 years for men and 48 years for women. By mid-century, life expectancy was around 66 years for men and 71 years for women. In the most recent years, life expectancy has increased to 76 years for men and 81 years for women.” (The Hamilton Project, June 2016). Although much of the gain has been in lowering infant deaths, there were also large gains amongst older people as well. “15-year-olds in 1900 could expect to live 46.8 more years, whereas their counterparts in 2000 could expect to live 62.6 more years, an increase of almost 16 years. At the older end of the age distribution, 60-year-olds in 1900 and 2000 could expect to live 14.8 years and 21.6 more years, respectively” (same source). More of us are living longer, but the real question is what is the QUALITY of that life as we age. There is a big difference between preparing to be healthy until the age of 46 and preparing to be healthy until the age of 76. Will the last 20 years of your life be robust and filled with satisfying endeavors? Or will you limp along from health challenge to health challenge?
The first step to prepare yourself for a full and complete life is to plan for that life in its entirety. If you are young, consider now what your actions, lifestyle, diet, exercise, and social relationships will mean for you as you age and how that will affect your health. Choose healthy patterns now. Meet with an Integrated Medicine team, like those at Progressive Medical Center to set a baseline for yourself that you can track over time. If you are in your 30s and 40s and starting to lose some of your pep, schedule a comprehensive medical exam to check your physical standing. Choose a practitioner that can sit down and listen to you, and has a team that can help you explore how your past choices may have affected your body. Engage in a battery of diagnostics to uncover any underlying conditions beginning to crop up to help in planning your health goals. Be honest with your doctors and let them know about past or present behaviors that may undermine your health so that they can target their investigations and help you chart out a course that will allow you to thrive and predict future warning signs to watch out for. If you haven’t already established a baseline for your health, do it now.
If you are in your 50s or 60s, now is the time to decide- will you give up unhealthy habits and diet, exercise more, and enjoy better health going forward? You have the power to determine your future. Even if you’ve already had a baseline health assessment, now and going forward, this will have to be much more frequent. Pay attention to your body, don’t wait to get anything of concern checked out. Change your diet- foods you’ve eaten for years may have started to bother you without you realizing it. Check for food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances. Pay attention to your gut, your cardio system, and your hormones- whether you are male or female.
If you are in your 70s or 80s, or above and haven’t lived as healthily as you’d wished, there are still plenty of things you can do to feel healthier. Walk at least 20 minutes a day if you can. If you can’t, research has found that using a Far Infrared Sauna can help you back to a point where you can add back in basic exercise. Pay attention to your diet and eliminate foods that may cause gut issues, brain fog, or affect your pulse. Supplement with vitamins and minerals and botanicals as necessary. Consult with your integrated practitioner about ways to “youthify” your body. Stay engaged mentally and socially and boost your hearing with a hearing aid if necessary to help accomplish both of those goals.
Don’t just wait for something to go wrong with your health before you act. Stay informed, practice preventative maintenance, and invest in your health by establishing a relationship with a medical team that will listen to you and is there for you throughout your journey.