June 22, 2009
We live in an age of contradiction. It's possible to live to be 100 if you follow a lifestyle that improves your health. At the same time, many of our nation's youth could die at an age younger than their parents did.
"Healthy aging" is the term for the normal process your body's organs go through over the years. However, you need to prevent or delay "unhealthy aging" that happens from poor health habits. So what can you do to make sure you go through "healthy aging" and keep going 'til the age of 100? Here are some everyday habits that can help you live to a healthy 100..
This is important for heart health and flexibility. Also, it may reduce your risk for Alzheimer's disease. It doesn't have to be intense activity. The Centers for Disease Control suggests you can add years to your life by doing moderate exercise for about two and a half hours a week. You can do this with a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood. Or you could stroll through a mall five days a week.
Your belt size is directly related to how long you'll live. A waist measurement of more than 40 inches for a man of average height means he has a higher-than-average risk for a heart attack and diabetes. For a woman, a waist size over 35 inches puts her at greater risk for these diseases. Why is waist size so important? People with wider abdomens tend to have more fat internally in their organ system, which causes more pressure on your body and risk for damage.
People who are depressed, guilty, or anxious are more likely to have major health problems than people who have a healthy outlook on life. Lack of sleep because of stress can harm your health. So can fatigue or being tired after being tense all day. You can even cause damage to your health with a poor diet from "nervous eating."
Getting enough good calcium into your system is important for bone health. As you get older, more calcium may leak out of your bones, putting you at risk for osteoporosis - making your bones brittle and more likely to break. In addition to calcium, make sure you get enough fiber. High-fiber foods reduce your sugar load, are important for diabetes prevention, and appear to reduce the chance of colon cancer.
You may not need a full checkup every year; but as you age, regular exams are more important. Screenings for such cancers as breast, cervical, and colon can catch those cancers early - when they can be cured. Your primary care doctor can also check for high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. Any of these problems, if not treated, can reduce your life expectancy. Also, if you smoke, quit. It doesn't matter if you smoke or if you're regularly around second-hand smoke. Both can shorten your life.
Right now many people are adopting the healthier lifestyles. However, medical professionals recognize this may be the first generation of children may not live as long as their parents did. Why is this and what can be done? The single biggest reason for this trend is childhood obesity. According to a study from Wake Forest University, the rates of childhood obesity are now three times what they were 25 years ago.
Fortunately, smoking rates among teens have fallen from the 1980s. Unfortunately, there has been a sharp increase in the use of illegal drugs. And there's an even greater increase in the use of prescription drugs such as narcotics, stimulants, and sleeping pills. The problems that come with the use of alcohol and drugs have led to a higher rate of teen suicide and auto accidents.
As parents, teachers, and friends, we need to provide help, education, and support for children and teens. It's our job to help them adopt healthy lifestyles and help promote a longer, healthier life.
Dr. James is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Pediatrics. He received his undergraduate degree from Duke University and his medical degree from the University of Kentucky.