The lifestyle choices we make today will determine our quality of life in old age and so we must choose carefully

By Nina Steele 

The one thing that strikes me most about our current aging population is the fact that so many people are growing old with poor health. It is a trend that I noticed first hand in my work for an old people’s charity and figures released by Age UK, the leading charity for old people, has confirmed that trend.

According to those figures, there are currently 11 million people in the UK who are aged 65 and over and of those, 4 million have a limiting longstanding illness. This is the equivalent of 40% of that total age group. The figures are staggering and with all the projections showing that the number of old people will keep increasing with the years, my first thought is that we must use every means possible to deal with age related illnesses in order for people to enjoy a good quality of life in later life. To spend 20 or more years of one’s life in constant pain and in many cases in a wheelchair is not the way anyone in society wants their old people to live.

Among the common illnesses are heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and dementia. As shown in this article by Cancer Research UK, a lot of these diseases are caused by poor lifestyle choices, including smoking, too much alcohol consumption, poor diet and lack of exercise.

Working with old people and seeing so many of them with poor health is quite heart-breaking, particularly when you realise that a lot of the pain they are suffering today could have been avoided. There is also the financial burden on society as a whole. According to the same Age UK figures, two thirds of people using the National Health Service are aged 65 and over. We in the UK have become accustomed to stories of old people taking up most of the hospital beds, with some patients having to be turned away as a result. The ramifications are massive and so it falls on all of us to make the necessary changes in our lives to ensure that we enjoy a good quality of life in old age.

No one is advocating that people live their lives like saints, far from it. By all means have fun and enjoy yourself, but do realise that whether or not you enjoy quality of life in old age is in great part up to you (except for hereditary diseases of course). The fact that we are living longer makes this even more of a priority. Can you imagine yourself spending 20 or more years of your life in pain? I can’t and because of that I am determined to do whatever it takes to have a good and enjoyable life in old age.

I have generally done well looking after myself by eating well and exercising regularly and gave up alcohol 4 years ago. I don’t smoke either. I do understand however that for some people, having a glass or two of alcohol a day is important and as the French love affair with wine shows, the problem is not drinking as such but rather drinking more than is recommended or worse binge drinking. This NHS article is about how much alcohol is acceptable. Smoking is a different beast and ideally, it should be avoided all together. Yes this can come across as patronizing, however having witnessed first-hand the damage to health that these lifestyle choices can do, I think it is an advice worth giving.

It is very likely that you will live long enough to see old age and unless you are prepared to endure years of pain, you should start making changes to your life today, if you haven’t already. Of course there are people who ticked all the boxes, yet ended up being ill anyway, but at least they can say that they did all they could, instead of spending the rest of their lives wishing that they had done things differently.

Nina Steele

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