The pursuit of a longer lifespan has long been a focus of research and study. But now, gerontologists are shifting their attention towards a new goal: healthspan. Healthspan refers to the number of years a person remains healthy and active, rather than just living longer. Aging is a natural process, but the goal is to age well and maintain physical and mental well-being for as long as possible. And it’s never too early – or too late – to start working towards a healthier aging process.
One of the key factors in maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle as we age is exercise. Staying active helps prevent deconditioning, which is the loss of physical fitness due to inactivity. Regular exercise can help prevent metabolic conditions like diabetes, heart conditions, and high blood pressure. It also helps maintain muscle mass, bone density, and overall physical function. Starting an exercise routine early is ideal, but it’s never too late to begin. If you notice changes in your physical abilities, it’s important to seek advice and take action to improve your strength, balance, and flexibility.
There are several simple tests you can do to assess your physical health and identify areas that need improvement. Testing your leg strength by standing up from a chair without using your arms can give you an idea of your overall strength and balance. The “walk and talk test” measures your speed and coordination while performing cognitive tasks, such as reciting the months of the year or counting backward. Shoulder flexibility can be assessed using the “back scratch test,” which measures your ability to reach and clasp your hands behind your back. These tests can help you identify areas of weakness and guide you in developing an exercise routine that targets your specific needs.
In terms of how much exercise you should do, the government’s activity guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Moderate exercise gets your blood flowing and provides nutrients to your body and brain. It’s important to engage your brain and not just go through the motions. Trying different activities and challenging yourself can yield the most benefits.
In addition to exercise, diet plays a crucial role in healthy aging. A healthy diet has been associated with increased life expectancy and reduced risk of chronic diseases. Legumes, whole grains, and nuts are key foods that should be included in your diet. Red meat should be limited, as it is associated with health problems and accelerated aging. High protein diets should also be avoided, as excessive protein intake is a common problem among children and adults. Protein should come from a variety of sources, including fish, beans, nuts, and seeds.
When and how much you eat is also important. Time-restricted eating and intermittent fasting have been studied for their effects on cellular repair and the immune system. Restricting calorie intake and maintaining consistency in eating patterns can have a positive impact on cardiovascular health, brain function, mental health, and the immune system. Consistency is key, and the benefits of these practices have been observed in both middle-aged people and mice.
In conclusion, shifting our focus from lifespan to healthspan is crucial for healthy aging. Exercise, along with a healthy diet and eating habits, can help us maintain physical and mental well-being as we age. It’s never too early or too late to start taking care of ourselves and working towards a healthier and more active lifestyle. So let’s prioritize our healthspan and make the necessary changes to age well and enjoy a longer period of good health.