Are we killing ourselves?
While advances in nutrition, workplace safety, and medicine have been increasing the odds you will live a long, healthy retirement, Americans may be actively engaged in cutting their own lives shorter, according to a recent Stanford study.
You’ve worked hard to get where you are, financially. Retirement is in sight, a lifetime of retirement savings are in place. You want to kick back and enjoy the next chapter of life.
But while you’ve been busy banking retirement savings, have you been building a “health bank” along the way, developing healthy habits that will help get you to retirement invigorated and raring to go?
Without a focus on health at every stage, the continued extension of American life spans could grind to a halt. In fact, today’s youth may be among the first generations to see health decline and life expectancies drop, according to researchers at the Stanford Center on Longevity.
The Stanford Center’s study, “Optimizing Health in Aging Societies,” published in “Public Policy & Aging Report”, spotlights breathtaking gains in health and longevity over the past century. Sickness is down and long life is the norm, not the exception. But those gains are at risk without attention to the effects of today’s sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets.
Alerting the public isn’t enough, according to the study, authored by Laura L. Carstensen, Ph.D., Mary E. Rosenberger, Ph.D., Ken Smith, M.S., and Sepideh Modrek, Ph.D.
“All told, nearly 30 years were added to the average life expectancy in a single century. Increases continue today, with 3 months added to life expectancy at 65 every year,” the study reports. “We have every reason to celebrate these historical accomplishments, yet in critical areas, our successes have led to unintended consequences.”
The study found:
• In 2012, for the first time in history, the U.S. population included more people over 60 than under 15 years old.
• In the United States, for the last 50 years, each cohort that has arrived at old age has been healthier than the one before it.
• Improvements in health and cognition speak to the profound influence that environmental and cultural factors can have on human health.
While more Americans are living long enough to suffer from common infirmities of old age – Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, and heart disease – one of the biggest killers, obesity, gets its start in childhood and progresses through middle age. Give in to those extra helpings and unhealthy temptations and you could be risking years of healthy retirement living and time with loved ones while surrendering retirement savings to unexpected medical expenses. The study also reports:
• Life expectancy for the average American could decline by as much as five years unless aggressive efforts are made to slow rising rates of obesity.
• The consequences of obesity are sufficiently serious that in 2013, the American Medical Association classified it as a disease in its own right.
• Obesity is associated with a 40% increase in duration of disability and thousands of dollars in increased health care costs.
“The bottom line is that we need to change the way we live,” the study reports.
The fix may well be a lifelong effort to modify behavior at every age, starting with childhood lessons on nutrition and exercise. Incorporating technology can help, including health monitoring through our smartphones and “wearables,” the study finds. And while the focus in the past has been on individual responsibility, the way forward may lie in population-wide strategies to improve health and fitness.
“The near doubling of life expectancy is among the greatest achievements in history,” the study concludes. “If we are to fully realize the gift of longer life, we need a population that is actively engaged with families, work places, and neighborhoods throughout their lives. The sobering news at this point in history is that gains to fitness have not only ceased, they are reversing.”
The full study is available for download at the Stanford Center on Longevity’s website.
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Things to Consider:
• Move around: The American Heart Association says “People who are physically active and at a healthy weight live about seven years longer than those who are not active and are obese.”
• Try for 150 minutes of exercise a week.
• You’re smart. You know some of your old standby “comfort foods” are bad for you. Try a healthy new recipe that can be tasty and better for you.