Thanks in large part to higher quality living standards, advancements in infectious disease prevention and treatment, and more nutritious diets people are living longer, with the global average life expectancy at 71.
However, that increased life span comes at a cost for many. While we may be living longer, largely preventable chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, are reducing the number of years spent in good health and threaten ongoing improvements to longevity.
In a new study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, Time to Reset the Prevention Agenda: Age-Specific Interventions for the Second Half of Life, researchers sought to answer the questions: What disease-prevention interventions promote longevity and quality of life, and how can this knowledge be used to provide recommendations for each decade over 50?
Some of the key findings include:
- The clear health benefits of regular moderate and vigorous physical activity throughout adulthood
- The importance of diet and exercise to prevent cognitive decline in our 60s, 70s and 80s
- Regular walking and strength training to prevent frailty, falls and musculoskeletal disorders
- The benefits to following healthy dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean and DASH diets
- That screenings for breast, colon and cervical cancer should continue in our 50s, 60s and 70s
Illness and poor health are not inevitable outcomes of aging. Many of the conditions affecting longevity and quality of life with advancing age can be mitigated through risk reduction strategies throughout life. Currently, age-specific guidelines to promote health and prevent diseases like those previously noted are lacking for older adults, yet these are greatly needed to account for changes in health and functional status and accumulated health risks with advancing age.
The report’s proposed decade-specific recommendations require ongoing refinement as gaps in the scientific evidence are filled. However, there are significant gains to be had if adopted. Consideration of strategies to encourage adoption is essential, such as the use of health technologies and insights from behavioral economics, as well as population-wide approaches to promote longevity, such as opportunities to promote social engagement and urban design focused on safety and mobility for older adults.
Chronic diseases require lifelong management. These, as well as aging-related conditions such as dementia, frailty and musculoskeletal disorders, increase the demands on already over-burdened healthcare systems and aged-care services. The associated economic consequences will require changes to retirement policies and pension systems. If we don’t take steps to address the problems now, aging in poor health will be an economic and global health security issue that will have a dramatic impact on us all.
Adriana Selwyn, Vitality Senior Health Strategy Specialist committed to creating healthier environments to keep people happy and disease-free, tennis fan, avid home cook and Europe lover.