By Ann Sullivan
In the 20th Century, the average life expectancy for seniors rose significantly from around 50 to more than 75 years of age. Contributing factors include improvements in public health care, vital nutrition, and advances in medicine. Preventative and early detection health care also contributed to prolonged life expectancy. Health and Safety in the workplace, and fewer people smoking and drinking added to the longer average life span. During the Roman era, life expectancy was between 22-25 years of age. By 1900 it had increased to 30 years. 1985 saw the average of 62 years. In recent years, 67-75 became the average. Many seniors, however, are living much longer with a higher quality of life as well. In fact, in the United States the average is as high as 83.
1) Better Health Care
For seniors who have Medicare, the first 12 months offers a free physical and a free annual wellness checkup in the years following. So, it’s recommended that you take advantage of staying ahead of any potential health issues. Prevention is the key to longevity. It’s further recommended to visit the dentist every six months, and get your vision checked for any changes as well. Advances in medicine, along with preventative care, are adding years to modern day senior’s lives. Staying informed about medications, interactions, and potential side effects is easy to do with the assistance of the internet. It’s also a good idea to keep notes and make sure to inform your doctor of any changes or questions. Health Care has come a long way in recent years. Better health care has been shown to add years to the lives of senior’s nowadays.
2) Improved Nutrition
Nutrition and eating healthy is an important factor in adding years to one’s life. We need less calories, but balanced nutrition at the same time, as we get older. The digestive system also slows down. Seniors who eat diets high in protein, grains, fruits, and vegetables have a greater chance of living longer. Water is also an important factor in prolonging life. As we age, we are more prone to dehydration. That’s why it’s equally important to drink enough water every day. Water also helps the mind stay sharp and energized. Modern day availability of whole foods and purified water are among the reasons seniors, who are aware of them, are living longer, healthier lives. Experts agree, finding healthy foods you like and sticking with them is key. If you’re eating something you like, and it’s healthy, you’re more inclined to keep including it in your diet.
You don’t have to be a marathon runner to add years to your life with exercise. Experts agree moderate regular exercise is adding years to the lives of seniors. Simply walking for 30 minutes or playing a few rounds of golf can add as much as five years. It’s not recommended to engage in extreme vigorous activity to achieve health benefits. It’s further recommended to always check with your doctor if you are beginning an exercise regime for the first time. It has been found, however, that seniors who walk, swim, dance, do light aerobics or other moderate exercise for at least 75 minutes per week are adding years and quality to their lives. Nowadays, there are plentiful exercise course created specifically to keep seniors in shape. Many senior centers also have exercise classes and activities to help seniors stay in shape and feel more youthful.
4) Social Opportunities
Modern technology and more towns creating senior centers and communities, has created more social opportunities for today’s seniors. Studies have found seniors who are socially engaged are adding years to their lives. Granted, friends are no replacement for family. However, having a social network of friends outside of your immediate family is also good for mental health. The most important aspect, whether it be friends or family, is having the support of others around you. Having ties that bind, a network of people you can turn to in need, and the general support of knowing others care, are some of the contributing factors to prolonged life. Being there for others also fits this equation. Knowing you are wanted and needed is another key in adding to prolonged life. As the Beatles song goes, “All you need is Love.”
Once a person’s work life has ended, as in retirement, it’s important to maintain a sense of purpose. Having a hobby, such as a garden, is a great way to stay in a routine and have something to keep busy. Creating artwork or crafts, volunteering a local food bank, playing cards with friends, dancing, golfing, or caring for a pet are among the healthy hobbies which add to longevity. The main reason is a sense of purpose. That sense that you are needed somewhere for someone or something gives that purpose meaning. This meaningful purpose replaces the one you once had when you were relied upon in your profession. Having a replacement purpose affords the opportunity to carry on, and not fall into a slump which can lead to depression. It’s a known fact that depression can lead to a myriad of illnesses and even death.
6) Cleaner Environment
Granted, in many places the air and water isn’t perfect. If you look back at other eras, however, the pollution levels have improved considerably since then. The Clean Air Act of 1970 set the stage for regulating pollution in our air quality. Other factors also include banning asbestos, lead paint and overall regulating chemicals used in industry and government jobs by setting exposure limits. The 1990 Amendment to the Clean Air Act also saw greater improvements in the overall health and longevity of the lives of seniors. By 2010 the overall mortality rate of the population saw improvement. This has also seen a decrease in pollution related illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, which, in seniors can lead to other health complications, such as pneumonia. Although tap water in many communities has also improved, many seniors are aware of drinking purified water these days as well.
7) Close Family Connections
It may seem obvious to some, but having close family has proven to prolong life. For some seniors, it can mean the difference between life and death. Of course, genetics come into play in the lifespan of a person. However, there are factors that can shorten or lengthen that life. Having close family bonds and the support of family members has been shown, in studies, to add up to an 8% greater chance of living longer – as much as age 85 or more. There are many seniors who live out their days in facilities surrounded by strangers who care for their daily needs. While this may supply basic needs, it doesn’t address the emotional and psychological need for close family ties and support. Having a strong family unit is something that has been proven to add to longevity and quality of life.
8) Better Hygiene
In just 100 years, human hygiene has come a long way, especially in America. Back then, many homes were without indoor plumbing and outhouses were the norm in many places. Most of us take the bathroom for granted these days. What many may not be aware of, is bathing or showering daily can prolong life. Even washing hands has been proven to improve health with less exposure to germs and germ-borne illnesses. Up until and during the 1950’s, most people only bathed and washed their hair once a week. It was viewed as an unnecessary excessive expense to run the water. Taking showers, using various soaps, shampoos and conditioners only began to take hold during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Personal hygiene today is certainly light years ahead of those days. People are more aware of the importance of hygiene for health and wellness.
9) Better Educated/Informed
Nowadays, especially with modern tools such as the internet and a myriad of health publications and television programs, seniors are better informed. Educating oneself, and researching various wellness topics has become much easier with modern technology. The ability to learn about nutrition, medication interactions, types of exercise, food values, and any wellness related topics is helping seniors stay informed. Being educated about one’s own wellness and finding things that work for the individual, is helping seniors live longer. Granted, consulting with a professional is always recommended. Doing one’s own research and becoming informed, however, is a way to ensure your exact needs are being addressed. Educating oneself is also a way to keep the mind active and sharp. There are even games, such as online Crossword puzzles, which help to keep up with good memory skills and avert diseases that cause deterioration of mental abilities.