A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association by the University of Washington’s Dr. Charles Murray confirmed that we’re living longer; life expectancy increased from 75.2 to 78.2 years between 1990 to 2010.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the gap between total life span and healthy life span increased from 9.4 to 10.1 years. This means that, on average, the last 10 years of life are far from being active, healthy years.
While progress has been made in improving results from problems such as strokes, some cancers and HIV, many problems still remain. More than 1/3 of Americans are obese, which can lead to diabetes, kidney disease and neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s. One in eight — 13 percent — of those over 65 have dementia of some form; 45 percent of those over age 85 have it.
It’s disappointing to learn that even though we spend more on health care than any other country — and by a large margin — we’ve only achieved a modest improvement in our overall health. We rank below many other countries in life expectancy and quality of life.
We all inherit genes, both good and bad, over which we have no control. The factors that we do have control over, however, can make a huge difference in the quality of our life. These include eating healthier and eating less, eliminating smoking and increasing physical exercise.
Physical exercise, combined with a healthy diet, will improve our cardiovascular system, bones and muscles, dramatically improving our quality of life. Allocating as little as 30 minutes a day to some physical activity can make a difference.
James Fries, a retired professor of medicine at Stanford University, said: “If you had to pick one thing, one single thing that came closest to the fountain of youth, it would have to be exercise.” The reality is that we can have more years and more active, healthy years — provided we choose to take care of ourselves.