It's no secret that Canadians are living longer and longer. Today a man who is currently 65 can expect to live another 17.4 years, a woman, another 20.8 years*. Whether you are edging towards retirement or beyond, or have parents that are aging, modifying your risks now will increase your chances of staying healthy, strong and vital as you age. We know that physiological changes occur as we age, but there are many areas of our health that can be modified to limit optimize health and reduce risks for both physical and mental changes.
There are both modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors that affect healthy aging. The non-modifiable risks include age, gender, and genetics. The major modifiable lifestyle risk factors include an unhealthy diet, inactivity and tobacco.
Recent research on diet points to an increase in diagnosed diabetes to almost 2.4 million Canadians, while almost 40% of Canadian adults are classified as having high blood cholesterol levels. You can reduce your risk by eating a balanced diet, controlling weight, and limiting alcohol and caffeine. Studies show that there is no single best diet among the most popular high profile diets, but that the best diet is the one you adhere to.
Obviously much has been said about tobacco and its proven links to cancer. Quitting smoking is non-negotiable. It will make a big difference in your long-term health and ability to engage in an active lifestyle. If you smoke stop, as soon as possible. Even one cigarette a day significantly increases your risk of heart disease.
Diet and exercise go hand in hand. Being active most days and exercising with purpose is essential. This means, focusing on exercise as an activity itself, walking to do an errand is always good, but exercising with the single purpose of increasing aerobic capacity is more effective. Exercise can be categorized as light activity – 1 hour a day, moderate activity – 30-60 min a day, and vigorous activity – 20-30 min a day. You may wish to mix and match your activities, varying your level depending on your time, your energy and your circumstances. As always, consult a healthcare professional before starting an exercise program. Exercise is an important ingredient to staying active and healthy. Exercise is also the single most important activity people can do to reduce the risk of age-related brain decline.
Here are a few other suggestions. Check your vaccination records to ensure they are up to date for vaccinations such as tetanus. Get a flu shot every year, and if you are over sixty-five years of age, a pneumococcal vaccination is encouraged. Over fifty? Consider getting the shingles vaccine as the risk of shingles increases with age.
And finally, you need to stay socially connected to remain vibrant, healthy and active. So whether you are working or retired, enjoy your interactions, your commitments, your interests and stay connected, learning new things on a daily basis!
* Statistics Canada 2005