The aging process is not what it seems.
We’ve been sold a fallacy.
It is generally accepted that as we age, there is a slow deterioration in our health and bodies that is natural and to be expected.
It starts gradually, often unnoticed at first: perhaps with slightly high blood pressure and weight that creeps up bit by bit.
One day, you notice the spare tire around your midsection. Prescription medications start popping up in your medicine cabinet, one by one, until finally, the realization of a diagnosis – hypertension, type 2 diabetes, etc. echoes as a new norm.
But this scenario should not be written off as normal.
Admittedly, there are some gradual health changes that accompany aging, but very few of the changes we have come to accept as inevitable are actually normal.
Many have stiffness, lower back pain and some decreased mobility as we age, but we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it’s all part of the process.
Perhaps, we are accelerating the loss in strength and bone density because we aren’t moving our bodies enough; maintaining sedentary lifestyles that welcome in the deterioration process.
Poor diets, elevated stress levels and a lack of physical activity contribute to the onset of a slew of problems, such as high cholesterol, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, just to name a few. In fact, statins, which treat cholesterol, are the most prescribed drug in the US.
The writing is on the wall - the vast majority of individuals are experiencing an accelerated and unnecessary breakdown in health that is preventable. And at what cost?
The numbers are staggering. Forbes magazine recently reported poor health costs the U.S. economy more than a half a trillion dollars per year.
And 39 percent of that amount, or $227 billion, is from “lost productivity” from employees missing work due to illness. Of the remaining $576 billion tallied in the report, the cost of wage replacement was $117 billion.
This number represents absence due to illness, as well as both short and long-term disability workers’ compensation. Finally, another $232 billion of poor health costs come from medical treatment and drugs.
In essence, our ‘health care system’ is reactionary sick care, focusing on disease management with little importance placed on disease prevention.
Too many economic incentives are aligned to get us sick and then to treat that illness, with very few focused on keeping individuals healthy. This is the heart of the problem: we wait until we are sick and then we deal with our health.
Our aim isn’t so much about thriving as it is about simply surviving. How did this happen and how can turn the tides?
In 2012, the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated the cause of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the U.S.
Nearly half of the causes were associated with suboptimal dietary factors. This study clearly outlined the top 10 nutritional mistakes we make that are slowly making us sick.
Whether it be not eating enough vegetables and healthy fats to eating excessive amounts of sugar and salt, these choices slowly take grip on our health.
Being more active
Exercise guidelines suggest a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, and according to the CDC, 80% of American adults don’t adhere to those recommendations.
The effect being active has on reducing obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers is indisputable. In addition, being active improves mood and has a notable impact on mental health.
Listening to our bodies
The way we view stress and deal with it has also evolved. Originally, stress was designed to invoke a fight or flight reaction, in which we would physically move, but that isn’t the case anymore.
Now, in addition to the usual sources of stress, it also comes from sensory overstimulation, which does not require movement. The physical act of moving is what lowers stress hormones, protecting us from the short-term surge.
Compounding the effects of stress is sleep deprivation. Sleep is necessary to ensure repair and rejuvenation of the body.
We don’t listen to our bodies anymore; heeding when we are tired and allowing ourselves to rest and restore. Instead, when we notice signs of fatigue, we attempt to mask them with caffeine.
Choosing better health
An unnecessary and premature breakdown of health is running rampant in the U.S. The effects are verifiable. Health care costs are spiraling out of control. People are focused on disease management instead of prevention.
Our health is determined by our choices. We choose our lifestyle, and the choices and commitments we make to ourselves in turn determine whether we age gracefully, or poorly.
We need to shift the focus of sick care, to place importance on the key lifestyle factors and personal commitment that are necessary to maintain health and reject the falsehood that a breakdown in health is inevitable.
Simply put, our health care system, employers, and insurers can’t afford it, and neither can we. It’s time for a health revolution.