More than twenty years ago, before phrases like "obesity epidemic" and "metabolic syndrome" entered our lexicon, two doctors introduced an online mechanism for determining one's biological age based on health in comparison with chronological age. Using information from insurance actuarial tables, the self-administered questionnaire in the site provided a "real age" vs. a chronological age and guided better health choices. The theory, of course, is that the same information that allows insurance companies to determine rates based on risk behaviors tells us a lot about what we should and shouldn't do.
Healthspan vs. Lifespan
What are those choices we can make toward a better "health-span" vs. "lifespan?" What makes us age? What are some causes of aging and premature death? How do we address these causes so we can live not only longer but healthier?
In "Live Long Live Healthy," Progressive Nutritional’s holistic nutrition expert and Director of Education Nelson Narciso, reviews the factors that cause premature aging and death in Canada and tells us how we can reverse current trends.
One of the report's tables, "Leading Causes of Death," demonstrates something surprising. Years ago, infectious diseases caused most premature deaths. Western medicine met this health challenge in the last millennium, however, and today, very few deaths are the result of an infection. In fact, among the top ten causes of death in Canada in 2009, influenza and pneumonia accounted for just 5,000 cases, less than 3% of the total. Excluding from the count another 9,000 resulting from accidents and 3,000 from suicide, this leaves more than 90% of deaths an illness or cluster of illnesses that science terms preventable lifestyle diseases.
Many diseases are on the rise. Two million Canadians live with osteoporosis. In 2012, 186,400 Canadians received a cancer diagnosis, and health officials anticipate a 60% increase in the rate of diagnosis over the next two decades. 31% of Canadian children 5-17 years of age suffer from obesity, a problem that unaddressed, puts them at risk for an associated cluster of diseases called "metabolic syndrome," issues that decrease life quality and cause premature death.
These health challenges not only threaten our life quality and cause premature death, they place an insupportable burden on public health systems. "Medical care costs for people with chronic diseases account for 42% of total direct medical care expenditures, or $39 billion a year in Canada." Further, "the indirect costs of chronic illness due to productivity losses are particularly high, accounting for over 65% of total indirect costs – $54.4 billion annually."
7 Causes of Aging & Illness
There are things we can do to fight back, and it is our responsibility to ourselves and as citizens to do that! Our goal is to live a long life that is disability-free, and with good nutrition, supplementation and some lifestyle changes, we can do that! Let's look at seven specific causes of aging and illness:
- Free radicals
- Glycation (sugar-damaged proteins in your cells, like browning in cooking or rusting)
- Excessive calorie consumption
- Nutritional deficiencies
The good news is that genetics are not determinative! While they predispose us to some things, how we live triggers (or doesn't) those effects. Our level of activity, what and how much we eat, our stress levels and environmental toxins increase or decrease processes like free radicals (highly reactive cells that "steal" from healthy cells) and glycation. Our objective, as we strive for the vibrant good health that slows our aging process, is to decrease these processes.
7 Steps to Living Younger
- Ensure a good activity level. The numbers don't lie. Get a pedometer. If you aren't exercising regularly, start slowly, but work toward 10,000 steps per day, a little less than five miles -- and not all at once. You want to avoid long periods of sitting, so punctuate your day with shorter walks.
- Build stress reducers into your day: a few moments of meditation periodically through the day that allow you to step back, walking (10,000 steps, remember?) mindfully, play some music, write in a journal, paint.
- Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins wherever you can: household cleaning and laundry supplies, vehicle emissions, pesticides and more.
- Remove unhealthy food items from your diet and keep them out of your home: sugar and all added sweeteners, refined and highly processed food items and junk food, juices, soda pop, GMO foods, certain oils.
- Bring healthy food items into your diet and home: The Environmental Work Group (ewg.org) provides a helpful Dirty Dozen list, revised yearly, of which foods are most heavily treated with pesticides. It's a good resource if you can't buy all organic. Stock up on real food -- veggies and fruits, whole grains, beans nuts, seeds and healthy fats. Be sure you have access to pure, fresh water.
- Cook more at home. With a nicely organized refrigerator and pantry where you can see everything, you can always make something. Pinterest is a great source of ideas. Experiment! Have some fun! - but pay attention to your cooking processes, avoiding those which contribute to more rapid glycation.
- Find an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in your area and arrange a worker's share with them. This is the best way to learn things, have fun, and take a giant step toward wonderful health. You'll get lots of great exercise outdoor working in those fields, you'll connect with the cycle of life and reduce your stress, and you'll take home a variety of wonderful veggies to experiment with that you might not otherwise buy.
Finally, even with our best efforts, it's hard to cover all the nutritional bases to counteract the effects of living in our toxin-laden, nutrient-depleted environment. Consequently, there is one more important consideration if you want to do everything you can to fight back against the premature aging and death thrust upon us by our modern world: begin a program of supplementation. Remember, a supplement is just that. Eat real food, but talk with specialists for the most recent expert recommendations for how to supplement effectively in accord with your dietary habits and life stage.