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Top 7 Health Investments

Over 22% of the total Australian population is comprised of adults 55 yrs and older, and this is rapidly increasing. The ABS predicts this to increase to 31% by the end of 2021 (ABS 2000).

In the 12 months to 30 June 2005, the number of people aged 65 years and over in Australia increased by 2.4%. On top of this, Australians have put on a lot of weight during the past 20yrs. As a result, Australia is now experiencing an obesity epidemic.

Now more than 20% of Australian adults are obese, and over 65% are overweight or obese (AIHW 2003). Over the next several decades, this obesity crisis combined with an ageing population is expected to have significant implications for Australia including health, labour force participation, housing and demand for skilled labour (AIHW 2004).

The health budget is bulging with this increase in life expectancy and as money is drawn thinner it makes sense to increase your own chances of spending as many of your years as possible in good health.

The Risks

Excess body weight can place undue strain on the heart, joints and spine; increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory diseases, osteoarthritis and other conditions; and exacerbate these conditions where they already exist (AIHW 2004) Your genetics will play a large part, however you are the only one who can ultimately decide how closely you reach your genetic wellness potential.

The facts are clear, people with healthy body fat levels, good diet and exercise habits, a supportive social environment and who take an interest in their own health, live a much higher proportion of their lives positively and in good health, than those who don’t take the time to look after themselves. Because your body is so complex, the perfect answer for perfect health is not yet understood.

However we do now know what makes your body work more effectively and there are a number of simple ways you can participate in the ageing process, giving yourself a better chance of wellness.


Seven fundamentals

The following seven fundamentals should be seen as investments for your own health. You don’t enter an investment without first understanding the benefits and terms of agreement, and for this reason many people are slow to invest in their own health. By understanding how the following seven fundamental health investments will benefit you, you can make some real changes towards a more positive and enjoyable retirement.

  1. Nutrition
    The importance of a balanced and healthy diet to healthy aging cannot be overstated. Eating well can make you feel and look better, help your body run more smoothly, ward off colds and sickness, and contribute to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels (which in turn helps protect you against heart disease and stroke).

    On the most basic level, your eating habits should reflect a desire to give your body the fuel it needs to run efficiently. You wouldn’t take delivery of a brand new car and put sand in fuel tank and old sump oil in the engine, but sadly many people do the equivalent with their diets. Fresh fruit, vegetables, protein, slow release carbohydrates, and healthy fats should make up your meals.

    Shedding any excess weight is especially important as you get older, a result which should be achieved with a sensible, balanced diet and regular exercise. A nutrition expert will be able to help you identify how your nutritional needs are different and how you can account for them.

  2. Exercise
    Regular exercise is another cornerstone of healthy living as you age. As your body slows down, you might be tempted to skip the exercise because it is harder to do and you feel challenged physically.

    Be reassured though, you don’t pay the price for good health, you enjoy the benefits. The most important thing to remember about exercise as you get older is that it does not need to be strenuous; it just needs to be consistent. Regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes on most days will help your body function more effectively in many ways.

    It helps with weight loss and maintenance, combats anxiety and depression, keeps bones, muscles and joints working properly, relieves symptoms of arthritis and reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some types of cancer. As you age, you might need to change the types of exercise you do, but anything that gets you moving is good.

    Walking, housework, gardening and even babysitting the grandchildren can count as exercise. Finding a way to build regular physical activity into your daily routine will yield great results.

  3. Attitude
    The number one way you can improve the aging process is to take charge of your attitude. Your sense of hope, humor and confidence will determine the tone of your experience.

    You might be reading this thinking that having a good attitude is easier said than done. That would be true, but it is also true that your attitude is one thing you have full control over.

  4. Friends and Social Involvement
    Protecting and nurturing your emotional well being is as important, if not more important, than taking care of your physical body. Contact with others, whether it be at work, church activities, or family get-togethers, will feed your spirit and can provide purpose and meaning in your life.

    Further, social involvement can help combat loneliness and depression and keep you active physically. Sharing your interests and passions with others will also help you keep your connection to the community strong, expose you to new people (of different ages), provide meaning and purpose, and challenge you mentally.

    Being involved with a cause that is important to you will also provide a constant reminder that you have a lot to offer. Seniors who are active, engaged and confident about their abilities generally feel better and live longer.

  5. Healthy Habits
    Smoking and drinking are two big habits that can affect your health and the way you feel. Smoking, in particular, is one habit to quit if you haven't already because it greatly increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Alcohol can be beneficial in moderation, but it also can contribute to sleep problems and suppress your appetite, preventing you from eating well.

    As you age, it is important to think about your lifestyle and identify habits which are helpful and harmful. Making a conscious effort to change the harmful habits will make your aging process more enjoyable.

  6. Sleep
    Achieving quality sleep becomes more difficult for many people as they get older. On average, people aged 50 to 85 sleep about 6 hours per day. Over 50% of men and women over age 65 complain of at least one chronic sleep problem.

    Many people accept sleep difficulties as a fact of aging. It is true that as we get older, our sleep patterns change, but it is equally true that good restorative sleep is essential to our physical health and emotional well-being. Possible causes of poor nighttime sleep for older people abound.

    Sleeping poorly might be the cause of big changes in life, health issues, medication, stress or anxiety. Getting a good night's rest becomes more difficult and can require you to be more conscious of your sleep environment and your sleep routine.

  7. Mental Activity
    Stimulating your mind can significantly improve the aging process. Keeping active mentally can help you improve your memory and combat boredom. Simple and fun things like games and puzzles, doing the crossword, reading or taking a new route to the store are easy ways to keep your mind active and engaged.

    The process of healthy aging starts with being informed and staying active. An investment now in each of these fundamental health priorities will lead to a priceless yield in good health and lead to a dramatic saving in your own future health costs. Don’t wait for life to happen to you, make wise decisions now and make life work for you.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2000.
Population projections Australia. Cat. no. 3222.0.
Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2003. A growing problem. Trends and patterns in overweight and obesity among adults in Australia, 1980–2001. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW: Bennett SA, Magnus P & Gibson D 2004 . Obesity trends in older Australians. Bulletin no. 12. AIHW cat. no. AUS 42. Canberra: AIHW.

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