Aging Well In America
Longevity, or living a long life, is what we strive for as we age. Healthy, active, longevity. And there are solid guidelines available to help us to get there. No big secret, no magic elixir needed, and it is not as hard as you might think.
A Johns Hopkins Medicine lead research study identified four primary behaviors that contribute to a significant reduction in death from all causes over the research period by an astonishing 80%! (Smith, Johns Hopkins Center for Behavior and Health). In order – the biggest impact drivers to living a long and healthy life are: 1.) Do Not Smoke 2.) Maintain a healthy weight 3.) Move your body (30 minutes a day) 4.) Make healthy food choices. 1
All of these are within our control. It is ok to start with baby steps, just get moving in the right direction. Smoking is clearly the most detrimental behavior to overall health. Affecting coronary arteries, lungs, and increasing the risk of cancer and stroke – smoking is the number one bad habit to give up. 2
There are many articles out there on good habits that help you live longer, everything from drinking coffee or tea (for the antioxidants), getting good sleep, meditating (mindfulness), and eating a Mediterranean diet. Equally important for longevity is a good social network for emotional health and the connective layer it provides to better overall health. 3
People who have strong social connections are more likely to follow up on annual physicals, take medications as prescribed, and have higher levels of happiness than those who don’t have a good network. Social networks are important in health recovery as a part of disease management or recovery from surgical procedures and research has shown that individuals with a strong social network are more likely to adhere to their medications and recovery programs. Social networks also step in to provide support for smoking abstinence or cessation, moderation in alcohol consumption, and other healthy behaviors. 4
Interestingly, even before COVID’s impact, the U.S. has been experiencing declining longevity rates as compared to similar countries, specifically skewed to lower social-economic groups. Factors such as holding a college degree, higher levels of income, and your zip code (access to healthcare, support networks, and an indicator of socioeconomic status) are impact areas for building longevity. Higher economic groups are experiencing higher longevity rates, while lower economic groups are experiencing declining rates. So, while socio-economic indicators are connected to longevity, it is the behaviors themselves that are driving it. 4
Communities will benefit as they are able to reach out and lift the overall availability and access to care and raise the health literacy levels of the whole community so that the leading good habits may be embraced by every economic level. The burden of chronic disease in the US is a heavy one, with 90% of the country’s 3.8 trillion-dollar annual health care total being driven by people with chronic disease and mental health conditions. 5 As one famous well-wisher put it “live long and prosper,” however it is more aptly put “prosper and live long.”
At any age, and at any level of health, taking the initiative to work on the four key factors of not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, moving your body daily, and eating a healthy diet will add years to your life. Additionally, people who practice these good habits tend to feel better and enjoy a more mobile and active life with a reduced burden of disease and other health-related problems. Longevity is within everyone’s reach! And today’s modern technologies are making it easier to stay connected, stay on target and manage health in new and meaningful ways.