Great News about Your Health – It is NOT Supposed to Decline with Age!
It is undeniable that it is a widely held belief in North America that past a certain age we can expect our level of health to steadily decline. Most expect their health to “peak” somewhere between their late teens and early thirties at which point they are “over the hill.” With this comes the expectation of aches and pains, lack of energy, sleep problems, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, digestive troubles, sexual dysfunction and of course all of the prescriptions, surgeries and doctor visits that accompany these problems. The belief that our health declines with age is so ingrained that most people believe that it is actually normal to suffer from these maladies! In fact, one is considered lucky if they have reached a certain age without facing these problems.
Growing up, I too was taught – and believed – that this was true. Based on my personal experience – I am old enough to be considered a Masters athlete – and in working with many seniors in my wellness practice over the past 10 years I have learned that in no way should we expect our health to decline with age. While many of my friends look back nostalgically at the feats they could perform in their youth I find myself stronger, faster and more energetic than at 20. I have clients in their late seventies who are healthier, more active and youthful than at 40. At the World Masters Games I competed in Australia several months ago there was a 105 year old woman throwing shot put!
There are two main reasons that the vast majority of people in our society DO lose their health with age. The first is that as they get older the accumulated effects of poor lifestyle choices have an increasing impact. Where the deterioration was hidden in the past, now it becomes quite obvious. A fifty year old with arthritis, degeneration and pain in their spine did not acquire the problem at the age of fifty.
The deterioration had likely been brewing for decades just like a heart attack can be the result of decades of plaque build-up in coronary arteries. So, if the loss of health is the result of harmful lifestyle choices it is fair to assume that if those behaviours never occurred or were changed the deterioration we call aging would cease to occur.
The second reason most people’s health declines with age is very the belief itself. Because it is considered “normal” to lose our health we don’t think there is anything amiss when it does. We believe it is inevitable so we never aim for anything better.
The belief that we will get worse gives us a false sense of security that we are okay when it does. This is a major contributor to our current crisis in health care and the cause of much suffering in people. Many live for years with sub-par health and go to their graves never even knowing it could have been any different.
The good news is that it does not have to be this way and it is never too late to turn things around. The first step is to listen to your body. If you have pain, symptoms and disease it means something! It does not mean that you have a deficiency of aspirin, beta-blockers or antidepressants in your bloodstream (although you may choose to use those).
Any pain, symptom or disease is essentially a call from your body to 1. Stop 2. Pay Attention and 3. Change Your Behaviour. When you do this you learn something from your health problem and actually become wiser as a result of it. This wisdom can be converted into greater health in the future.
The second step – which is related to the first – is to evaluate and adapt your lifestyle knowing that it is possible to get healthier with each passing year. How would you eat if you knew this? How would you exercise? Would you get more fresh air? Could you reduce your physical, chemical and emotional stresses? Looking at your lifestyle knowing you can be healthy for life will create different outcomes than just trying to not do the bad stuff.
The final step is to not try to be “normal!” Let’s face it the average person isn’t that healthy or happy. So why try to be like everyone else? It is even smart to question all of those recommendations from experts (even this one) because perhaps their beliefs are selling you short. Most importantly, have fun with this. Health has become such a serious subject yet the reason we want to be healthy is so we can be happy and contribute to the well-being of those we love.