As the population of the United States ages and approaches or enters retirement, people more than ever want to be in good physical shape to enjoy these years with their spouse and children and not be burdened with physical incapacity or instability. It is never too late to assume a healthier lifestyle, and positive changes even at older ages can have a very powerful impact.
While many believe that damage done is indeed damage done to the body, behavioral modification and preventative therapy have a lot more benefits than previously assumed. Lifelong smoking may have caused some damage to lungs and small airways, but stopping smoking even at age 65 can lead to an increase in life expectancy of up to two additional years in men and over three years in women, according to studies in the Journal of Public Health. Other studies show that stopping smoking at any age can benefit those exposed to second hand smoke - these can represent cardiovascular risks to loved ones almost as high as smoking itself. It is never too late to stop smoking and help lungs to preserve their strength and ability to exchange oxygen in the body.
Positive changes in nutrition help to promote a longer lifespan. More time away from work and at home allows more time for better and healthier food preparation, and a departure from the high fat and cholesterol content from convenient fast foods. Elimination of trans-fatty acids can avert nearly 20 percent of coronary heart disease events in the US each year. The HALE study (Healthy Aging: a Longitudinal Study in Europe) followed people over 70 for ten years and showed that a Mediterranean diet, moderate physical activity, moderate alcohol usage and nonsmoking were associated with a 50 percent reduction in all cause mortality.
Physical activity is a must for all those reaching older ages. We may not be capable of the activity we were in years previous, but some form of aerobic exercise at least three times a week and strength training of at least twice a week is a recommendation of the Surgeon General. Hip and other fractures sustained in falls as we age have an incredibly high mortality, and the inability to move and go places as we age makes life less fulfilling with limitation in movement and balance.
Two other preventative therapies to mention are cholesterol screening and medication and the use of aspirin therapy in those at higher risk for coronary heart disease. Most of us have had blood tests for cholesterol and triglyceride measurements as part of physical exams, but knowing your numbers can be beneficial. The National Cholesterol Education Program, Adult Treatment Panel recommends much more aggressive lowering of cholesterol than was previously thought to be efficacious. This is especially true for those who have established cardiovascular disease or are at high risk for developing it. Preventative aspirin therapy is also something to discuss with your doctor, especially in men and in women who are postmenopausal, smoke, or have a history of hypertension or high cholesterol.