The well-known demographer James Vaupel has calculated that since 1840 there has been an uninterrupted extension of two and a half years per decade for life expectancy – or, in other words, three months per year. The reality is that we now live longer.
Longevity is increasingly evident in our country; approximately 17 million Spaniards are over 50 years old and life expectancy is estimated to be around 82. Everything points to us living longer, but the question is can we also live better?
Prevention has to be the key, with health lifestyles, but our attitude towards life is also important. Genetics plays a great part because it controls at least 25% of human longevity; however, the remaining 75% is determined by lifestyle, so whether we live longer and better depends on how we treat our body.
Let’s try to grow old actively
We are talking about active ageing on the physical level to maintain independence on a functional level. In addition, training the ‘cerebral muscle’, in other words keeping an active mind, is important if we want to keep our cognitive functions in good shape. Another issue to take into account is psycho-emotional development: maintaining social relationships with the people around us and developing emotional connections with family and friends. Keeping up your day-to-day activities when you feel integrated into society is essential if you want to age actively.
And when do we have to start living a healthy life? This is where we refer back to Dr. Valentín Fuster, who reminds us that ‘it is never too late to start looking after ourselves’. We need to choose healthy habits; the sooner the better.
The 5 crucial steps towards active ageing
1. Give up toxic habits such as alcohol and tobacco
2. Take up a balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, one rich in antioxidants
3. Practice physical activity on a regular basis
4. Keep your brain active. This could be learning a new language, reading, painting, playing chess, doing crosswords
5. Keep an eye on your psycho-social well-being by maintaining relationships and looking after your emotional connections with your family and the people around you
The formula for active ageing is a combination of an individual’s genetic make-up and healthy lifestyle, but also of resilience, which is the ability to cope well with life’s difficulties. Looking back will help you move forward, and should never be an excuse to get stuck in a rut. This is the basis for ageing in an active way.
Sources and further information:
Spanish Society of Anti-Aging Medicine and Longevity (SEMAL)
La ciencia de la salud (Planeta) (The Science of Health, in Spanish)