If I knew 10 years ago what I know today about health, I would be so much better off. These words are true in every decade, and by the time you reach 100 – if you are lucky enough to do so – you will know all you need to know to live a long healthy life. The only problem is, you are already 100. With that in mind, though, it is always the right time, at any age, to take stock and ask what you can do to keep on going with life in a healthy way.
The truth is, any way you spin it, it will always come down to diet and exercise, no mystery here, as well as other factors such as smoking, drinking and genetics. How to use that information in each decade is the true challenge.
One must keep in mind, and accept the fact that as you age, you cannot physically do what you used to – but you can still be very active. As well, while the basics of a healthy diet remain the same, there may be adjustments needed based on a variety of medical conditions.
Let’s begin in your 20s and 30s, because really, when you’re younger than 20, you can get away with almost anything. In these two decades, most people go through life changes such as graduation, transition into the work force, marriage, and starting a family. The stress involved with these can be huge, and there is often a tendency toward non-intentional self-neglect. There is little time for exercise, and you will eat what you can, when you can. So, with all of this happening, one must dig deep, remind yourself that you are slowly getting older, and while you feel good, your habits at this early age will greatly help you later in life. Find time to exercise, and be very aware of your eating habits.
In their 40s, most people seem to settle into their lives, and work, kids, family and life in general, all seem to stabilizing factors. Most of us will find more time for personal care again. Exercise can easily pick up in this decade, whether it be team sports, solo sports, or just working out. There can be a bit of a rude awakening, though, when your body starts to tell you that you are no longer 20. Play with a little bit of caution or you may be spending a fair bit of time with a variety of physical therapists. It’s easy to gain unwanted pounds in your 40s, so one simple tip: practice mindful eating and play close attention to portion size. Enjoy your 40s, you are still young.
Let’s now jump to the 50s and 60s. You are not considered old, but you are certainly not young. You look in the mirror, you see yourself and say that something is a little different. You sort of look the same as you always did, but just can’t put your finger on the difference. These are two great decades where, nowadays, we see parents playing sports with their kids or working out with their kids. It is a fabulous time for activity if we just keep in mind that pulled hamstrings, sprained ankles, and all sorts of back problems are just one bad move away. So, participate for sure, but be aware of your abilities – or lack thereof.
Enjoy what you eat in your 50s and 60s. Enjoy good company with your food, but if you want to remain healthy into the senior years, continue to be mindful and wise in your choices.
Now we are in the senior years, the 70s and beyond. I have always admired older men and women who I see remaining well into their 80s, looking very fit, remaining active, and seeming to be much younger than their age. I am not near that age yet, but I do believe that if I practice the simple rules of smart physical activity and mindful eating habits, my hope of being like them may become a reality.
While health challenges can increase in these decades, both mentally and physically, again you must continue to practice the good eating and activity habits that got you here safely.
Of course, while all of this seems simple enough, there are other factors that come into play, as I mentioned earlier. Genetics is a big one, but the more things you do right, the more you can help ward that off. Do not smoke, drink responsibly, never underestimate the importance of sleep, and probably one of the most important factors to help you in all decades is to laugh, have fun, and to try and enjoy every single day you are blessed to have.
Dr. Michael Landau is a dentist in Ottawa.