How Many Healthy Years Do You Have Left?
We don’t know the answer to how many years we have left, but have you asked yourself how many healthy years you have left?
In 2018 it was estimated that a woman or man born in the EU that year would have around 64 healthy life years ahead of them – approximately 76% of their total life for women and 81% for men.
This is a stark calculation – in other words people born in 2018 in the EU are likely to spend a fifth or more of their life unhealthy.
Healthy life years are also known as disability-free life expectancy. A healthy life is defined as one without limitation in functioning and without disability.
Many of us want to live long lives, but we also want to live independent, active, happy lives. We don’t want to live with disability or with limitations. Many of us want to travel, hike long distances, get on and off the floor easily, garden for hours without tiring, feel energetic all day long and live a life filled with meaning rather than limitations.
We want to have a sharp brain, be able to remember things, maintain our weight and look (at the very least) presentable. Nobody wants to be constrained by arthritis or by type 2 diabetes or by dementia.
We want our years to be healthy.
So How Do We Do It?
I’ve recently been interviewing experts about healthy, happy ageing. These included people from a wide range of specialties (community doctors, psychologists, personal trainers, coaches). I’ve also interviewed ordinary people with a “can-do” attitude to ageing.
Their fundamental recommendations are the same. Let me distil for you what some of these are:
It’s Never Too Late to Start
Of course, it’s best if you start getting fit and healthy when you are young, but many of us are too busy having a good time or furthering our careers to do that. But it really is never too late to start.
One of the people I spoke to was Mary Anne. Mary Anne is a caregiver for her husband, who is quadriplegic with multiple sclerosis. She found that she was tired all the time, so at age 68 she decided to join a gym and start with a 30-minute workout.
Within two weeks, she started to have a lot more energy. Over time, she found that her rotator cuff pain and her arthritis were alarming her less and less. Now Mary Anne does stair climbing challenges, exercises most days, and has started jogging. When she was 70 years old, she climbed 70 floors of a Dallas skyscraper as part of a charity challenge.
Genes Aren’t Everything
Many people feel that particular illnesses run in their families, but experts repeatedly told me that genes prime the gun, but your lifestyle and environment fire the gun.
Rajashree knew that she was prone to developing type 2 diabetes, because she was from India. When her doctor confirmed that her blood tests showed she was diabetic and had high cholesterol, she decided to try to change her diet.
After a year, all her blood tests were normal, and she was no longer even pre-diabetic. She could so easily have decided that she couldn’t do anything about it – type 2 diabetes was her destiny.
When Kate was 40, she was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. She knew what a painful condition this was because her mother had been crippled by it. Doctors prescribed lots of medication to manage the pain.
Over time, Kate started to notice that some foods made her symptoms worse, and so she started to change her diet. Now, in her late 50s, she has no symptoms, takes no medication, and runs 10 km regularly. She too could have just thought: “Oh well, like mother, like daughter.”
You Can Change Your Story
It’s easy to believe we are on a particular track living out a particular story, but your life can change dramatically if you want it too. What’s your life story? Are you someone who always fails or will always be an outsider? Are you someone who’s a people pleaser or whose life is a-shambles?
It doesn’t have to be like that. You can write yourself a new script for your life – if you want to. You may need help, but it is possible.
Dr Robert Kornfeld had a difficult upbringing and ended up a drug addict at 15. He turned his life around, through his own perseverance and commitment to self-improvement. Now he helps others overcome the negative programming from their parents and create a new life story for themselves.
Glynis has started a new business. She’s 67, and she wants to seize the opportunity to develop something new that will benefit her community. Annette and Graham moved to a new country in their late 50s to start a new business.
You can, if you wish, live the last fifth or quarter of your life in disability – or you can, if you work at it, live your life with minimum disability, discomfort, or pain.
You may be indignant at the very idea that this is your choice, but the experts and ordinary people I speak to make it totally clear that we absolutely have a part to play in how healthy our final years are. So, let’s celebrate that – we are in so many ways masters of our own destinies.
Don’t give up, don’t accept “the inevitable.” Take charge of your life and move forward.
Do you have ‘bad’ genes? What do they say about your health after 60? Have you decided to counter their prognosis? How? Please share with the community and let’s boost up our health!