By Darin W. Stokke, DC
The aging of the general population is a global phenomenon. Although recently the life expectancy in the United States dropped for the first time in many decades, the average life expectancy of a person born in 2017 is still 78.8 years which is more than 10 years longer than the life expectancy in 1950. But there is a significant difference between a person’s expected quantity of life years and a person’s expected quality of life during those years.
While quantity of life is easily determined through gathering of statistics, how does one determine a person’s “quality” of life? According the World Health Organization (WHO) the quality of life can be determined through calculating “healthy aging” which is defined as a person’s functional ability to perform desired and necessary daily activities. Necessary activities would include things such as caring for oneself and doing normal activities to navigate successfully throughout the day. Desired activities would be those activities a person does for enjoyment and pleasure such as golfing, fishing, walking, swimming, playing cards and playing tennis as well as maintaining quality relationships with friends and family. Quality of life simply means functioning to a level so as to experience enjoyment in living each day. Who wants to have longevity without any quality?
Maintaining functional ability is the key to healthy aging. The problem is that statistics are showing that while longevity is remaining high, quality of life is not necessarily getting better for those over 65 and may actually be getting worse. On the good side, poverty rates for those over 65 has dropped from 30% in 1966 to 10% today meaning more access to good quality food and housing and the ability to do the things one wants to do financially. On the bad side, obesity rates have risen sharply in the past decade increasing today to 40% of the 65 – 74 year old population. With obesity come other undesirable issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. In doctor’s offices today it’s becoming commonplace to simply see patients to manage chronic diseases rather than treating them for acute infections and conditions as in the past. We’ve done an amazing job at wiping out many of the health scourges of the 19th century but we seem to have exchanged them for the chronic illnesses of today. Managing chronic illnesses accounts for a large portion of the 4.2 billion prescriptions written each year. Today, the average American now gets 13 different prescriptions a year and prescription medication has also now grown to become the 4th leading cause of death in the United States. The question is, with more medications prescribed than ever before to treat the chronic effects of obesity, poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices, are American’s enjoying a better quality of life as a result?
The answer isn’t in early detection of disease, but rather prevention of disease. The key to prevention is in maintaining health each and every day. To break it down into the 4 key areas this simply means each day to eat well, move well, live well, and think well. Eating well seems to be more difficult today and there are a plethora of books just on the subject of diet. However, it’s really not as hard as the books are making it out to be. Very simply, eat more of the God made foods in their most natural state and less of the man made foods each day. Moving well requires sound structure of the body through proper posture, functional movement of the joints through full ranges of motion, and maintaining the strength of the supporting musculature. Living well requires getting up each day with a purpose, maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family, and doing the things you enjoy most as often as possible. And thinking well requires maintaining a positive outlook on life, forgiving others, being grateful for everything you have, and letting go of worry.
Healthy aging is a daily journey of doing the little things and developing the simple habits of healthy living through the 4 keys areas of eating well, moving well, living well and thinking well. There’s no guarantees in life, but you can hedge your bets by doing the right things each day so that you can always enjoy the best quality of life during all your years of living!