Be the one who skips across the finish line

There's good news: Life expectancy is steadily increasing. Modern medicine is so good now that it is possible to keep us alive for longer than ever. The bad news is: Healthy life expectancy is not increasing.

According to data published by Public Health England in July 2017, life expectancy in the UK is now 79.5 for men and 83.1 for women. Healthy life expectancy however, is 63.1 and 64.4 respectively. 19.0 years less for men and 16.1 years less for women. As life expectancy is increasing, but healthy life expectancy is not, we are spending more and more time of our life sick.

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By the time we hit 65, 40% of us are going to have at least one chronic illness: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, depression, dementia, arthritis, and cancer are just the most common ones. How thrilling is it to know that we’re going to live longer, but that we’ll spend a significant chunk of that time in pain?

The human body is an amazing thing. It takes a lot (a lot!) of punishment without complaining and works hard day and night – particularly at night though – to repair the damage we do to it and at least maintain us on a reasonably healthy level. That works really well for many, many years. But there is a point when that repair and maintenance begins to slow down. It is usually only then that we start noticing, and from my own observation I would say that that is at around age 40.

Most of my clients are over 40 and it’s not as if I wouldn’t be happy to see younger clients, it’s just that their diet and lifestyle hasn’t caught up with them yet. When you’re young, you can cope with short nights – whether that time was spent studying, partying, looking after a baby or working long-hours in a stressful job. Our body takes it all: junk food, eating on the run, smoking, drinking and even recreational drugs barely leave a mark (that we can tell). Injuries, like broken bones and torn ligaments, heal quickly and we get back on our feet in no time.

But once we hit our late 30s or early 40s the cracks are beginning to show: Suddenly there is a spare tyre around our middle that didn’t used to be there. Where did that come from? We haven’t changed anything! Anxiety, depression, insomnia, tinnitus, thyroid malfunction, high blood pressure, achy joints, hormonal imbalances, fertility problems, sexual dysfunction, and constant, leaden tiredness suddenly appear.

We’re feeling like cr*p, but at this point we are still looking at a good 20 or 25 years of a working life that is not going to let up. We are still expected to turn up at the same time every day and work hard, be efficient, be brilliant, make a contribution for at least 8 hours a day – as we always have. Once we get home, there is still housework to do, kids – or at this stage parents – to look after, bills to pay, friends to be seen, and just stuff to do. We simply do not have time to collapse on the sofa or crawl into bed to recover for another day.

Meds will help us through: anti-depressants, acid blockers, statins, beta blockers, thyroid hormone, HRT, metformin – once we hit 45, most of us are on at least one or two of those. While prescription drugs may be necessary, they are not going to fix anything, they’ll merely tide us over. All drugs come with side effects, which sometimes require another drug to deal with.

At retirement age, we have finally paid off the mortgage, the children have their own families, we’re not responsible for anyone but ourselves anymore. This is the time to spend the day just the way you like it: socialising with friends, cycling, gardening, volunteering, heck, you could even downsize, buy a camper van and go travelling.

However, if we even make it to retirement, 40% of us merely limp across the finish line, only to then collapse (statistically) and succumb to at least one chronic illness. We might not have the inclination or be in good enough shape to do any of the stuff we had planned.

But that’s old age for you, right? That’s what happens. It’s to be expected that by age 45 we’ve got to be on two or three meds. It’s normal to lay down extra fat and be achy in the morning and tired in the evening. That’s what happens when you age.

Well, actually no, it isn’t. We have come to accept all this as normal, because it is so common. It’s not inevitable though. It is our diet and lifestyle choices that have brought us to this point, and diet and lifestyle are what is going to turn it around for us. Obviously, the sooner you get into healthy habits the better, but it’s never too late!

So, what is it that makes us sick and old?

1. Stress

More than anything else lifelong stress sets us up for chronic illness. Over the time of our lives, most of us are exposed to a lot of psychological and physiological stress. For many, this starts even in childhood and while humans have remarkable resilience, it can catch up with us in middle age.

2. Diet

We still treat diet as an optional factor in health. Yeah, healthy eating is all well and good, but who has time or money for that? We’re busy people and shoving a burger into our mouths during a 15-minute lunch break is just going  to have to do. Or it could be a bag of Wotsits, or a stack of digestives. Anything is sustenance, right? Wrong. Do this for 20 years and you’ll no longer be able to ignore the consequences.

3. Alcohol, smoking and recreational drugs

Obviously.

4. Overweight and obesity

The most damaging thing excess body fat does for us is that it fuels inflammation. Temporary inflammation is a good thing and vital. When the immune system finds something wrong, it springs into action and deals with the problem. There will be redness, swelling and pain for a few days, but then we’ll get better. Chronic inflammation is silent and much less noticeable, but unfortunately chronic: It doesn’t stop. Fat cells, and particularly visceral fat (the fat on the inside) promote chronic inflammation, which is at the root of most chronic illness we experience when we are older.

Address these issues now – whatever your age – and make sure that you are going to be one of those people who skip across the finish line into retirement, ready to face their freedom!