We all want to stay young for as long as possible. But trying to cling onto the lifestyle you had in your 20s doesn't keep you youthful. It might do something for you psychologically, but physically there are repercussions.
At the end of last year, Public Health England claimed that nine in 10 men and eight in 10 women aged between 40 and 60 are said to be not doing enough exercise, exceeding the recommended limits for alcohol, or are either overweight or obese. In my GP surgery, I'm seeing increasing numbers of 50-somethings with sexually transmitted diseases and problems with alcohol. There are also older people with illnesses related to overseas travel and the kinds of issues associated with overworking and work-related stress.
60 has been talked about as the 'new 40' for decades now. How long before 70 is the new 40? There's certainly longer life expectancy in the UK, brought about by post-war prosperity, better diets and healthcare, but that doesn't necessarily mean longer lives spent enjoying a high quality of health. That takes a bit of work. Unhealthy habits picked up in the years when we feel indestructible are a major factor when it comes to long-term health problems, the problems which have become an epidemic in wealthy nations globally: diabetes, obesity, heart problems and cancer. These conditions are mostly avoidable, sometimes also reversible. But it takes an awareness of what's happening to us. It means growing up when it comes to thinking about what a 'living life to the full' attitude does to the body.
Without the need for going to extremes and becoming obsessive about day-to-day fitness, weight and other health indicators, it's important for people from their 30s onwards to think about planning for their future health. That might just mean thinking through what sort of shape they want to be in later in life, what they're prepared to do to make that happen. It could also mean committing to a more regular health screening - not just a BMI and blood pressure check, but something comprehensive that gives a clear picture of what's happening. More like an update on your investments and how they're performing.
You might be feeling as fit as ever, but as you get older there are more likely to be hidden health issues that need to be detected as soon as possible. Traditional tests haven't always been successful in picking up on the range of potential cardiovascular system threats, meaning people haven't been able to take action to change their diet or lifestyle in time. Research suggests that 1 in 5 people who have a heart attack weren't originally considered to be in either the 'high' or even 'moderate' risk category based on the standard information on age, sex, ethnicity, cholesterol level, blood pressure, smoking status and family history. Tests involving exercise just aren't safe for someone with an existing, unknown heart condition; X-rays involve a level of exposure to radiation. An estimated 20% of cases of Atrial Fibrillation - the relatively common condition of an irregular heartbeat - go undiagnosed, but is a major risk factor for heart disease and strokes. Aortic aneurysms and types of cancer such as bowel cancer, ovarian and prostate cancer tend to be overlooked.
There's a huge amount of attention paid to financial planning, making sure we have state and personal pensions and the kind of savings provision needed to secure a comfortable retirement. But what's the good of financial security if lives are limited, in both quality and length, by a lack of planning? In health terms many of us are just splashing all the cash now.