Every month should be Healthy Aging Month! It’s a great time to think about and recognize the strides we have made as a society to aid in improving survival rates.
What We Need to Ask
As a geriatrician, I was accustomed to caring for older adults. But this year, I am expanding my questions to other age groups.
- Aren’t we all aging?
- Don’t we all want to age as healthily as possible?
- Should Healthy Aging Month be a focus only for the senior adults?
- How can we include all people who are aging and attempting to be healthy at the same time?
The number of people who should take healthy aging seriously is high— it’s Everyone! Everyone is aging, and everyone can take steps to age well.
The groups who introduced Healthy Aging Month did so over twenty years ago. They did this to inspire and provide practical steps for adults over 45 years old to improve their physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing.
A Look at the Generations
Helping my patients age well, one patient at a time, was my focus for over 40 years. I made a living by advising older adults, I have yearned to reach younger audiences as of late. Many of my patients were Baby Boomers—a group of 76 million adults over 50 years old. This generational group is astoundingly large, and, in my experience, greatly in need of guidance regarding healthy aging.
Right behind the Baby Boomers, there are 82 million Gen Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980) who began reaching 50 in 2015. Nearly half of Americans, 158 million people, fall into these two generations. This is an enormous number of people and all of can use a healthy dose of aging advice!
Baby Boomers and Gen Xers continue to have the remarkable opportunity to live longer than the generations before them. During our lifetimes, life expectancies have risen significantly! That’s worth celebrating!
This is partly thanks to medical advances such as treatment breakthroughs in heart disease and cancer. Also, these two generations seem to have lived fairly conservative lives. In some ways, we have practiced a modest preventative approach to disease and injury. Better automobile safety practices and a reduction in cigarette smoking also benefit society.
But, over the last two years, we’ve noticed a reversal of life expectancy gains. Life expectancies dropped from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 in 2020. There are two main contributors to this drop in life expectancy. The first is COVID. The second is the opioid epidemic. In 2020, COVID caused 375,000 deaths. And opioid overdoses resulted in an astounding 93,000 deaths.
Addressing Life Expectancy
How do we start improving our own life expectancy? It’s simple! We get back to the basics. We intentionally blend healthier lifestyle choices into our lives. This is important for ALL of us, because we are ALL aging!
Here is my intentional approach for healthy aging.
- Set your goals: weight, exercise, food choices, sleep, socialization and stress reductions.
- Start tracking your progress. Use a web-based tracker or a handwritten journal. These are proven tools for success.
- Find a partner or coach or friend to hold you accountable.
- Celebrate your successes and reward yourself.
- Scour the internet for healthy exercises and recipes you can try. Be adventurous and attempt new things. “Meatless Monday” could be great for your eating habits and is an easy change!
- For a quick fix, cut out sugary beverages and snacks with added sugar completely.
Incorporating any of these techniques into your lifestyle will get you started on the path toward healthy aging and a longer life. Remember, you’re never to young or too old to begin something new, especially when it comes to your health! Let’s get life expectancies back to where they were in 2019.
To a Long and Healthy Life,
David Bernstein, MD
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