I recently attended a conference in The Netherlands about “A life course approach to Healthy Ageing” where esteemed health professionals from Universities around the world engaged in a day’s discussion about the role that social context factors play in healthy ageing and well-being. The program involves conducting and examining research and developments at the individual level during the life course as well as the level of groups and the general population.
Knowledge from the research is showing that there is a direct link between our health in old age and that of our health and social factors as young as 8 years of age. Studies of groups of individuals in the population have been conducted over many years to see what role the influence of society plays in our health. Without any surprise, the incidence of obesity in children today, which is much higher than when I was a child, does not bode well for our future oldies.
Coming from a generation that had no access to the technological play toys of today, my free time was spent playing outside, competing in athletics or playing netball. Downtime was meeting your friends at the local swimming pool and trying to look cool. So with those thoughts in my mind I was feeling confident that my level of activity in my youth was sufficient enough to look after me later in life. My concern however is the here and now – I am now in my middle age years and how can I continue to ensure that my approach to Ageing is healthy? After all, I am happy to survive until old age but I want to maintain the highest level of functioning for as long as possible. My focus going forward should be active ageing, well-being and quality of life.
The usual anecdotes come to mind, about healthy eating, exercise, no smoking, reducing alcohol intake and keeping my mind busy. This is all well and good but with the fast-paced lives that we find ourselves living in, it is easy to forget or frankly to find ourselves too tired to be healthy. Looking for some inspiration, I find myself thinking about my mother who will turn 80 this year. Her knee troubles her tremendously and she has recently acquired a walking stick. Determined to be healthy in her old age, and to keep her knee on the straight and narrow, she exercises regularly 3-4 times a week at either water aerobics classes or self-paced exercises in a heated pool. The outings also give her time to socialise with other people which helps keep her mind active and sharp. Boredom and social isolation can have just as much detrimental effect on our health as an unhealthy lifestyle.
As my mother points out: “There are people in our group with many different backgrounds, some have disabilities or dementia who are with carers, others come on their own, some are as young as 60 or in their 90’s. Being older is not an excuse for not exercising, it is just about finding the exercise that best suits you. Being older shouldn’t mean that you cannot have a social outing and not be connected to the word. It just must be right for you and your circumstances”.
Looking back I was definitely on the right track in my youth and early adult years. I somehow seem to have misplaced that outlook and need to pay some attention to my health now, so that I can ensure that I maintain my highest possible level of functioning as I age. After all Healthy Ageing should have a life course approach.