The majority of Americans spend their final days with very little independence and in a constant state of disease. This is often times the result of failure to put effort into healthy aging. Middle-class individuals are more likely to die in a hospital bed surrounded by strangers (medical staff) rather at home surrounded by loved ones(1).
This phenomenon is partly due to increasing dependence on the medical system and pharmaceutical to treat disease. As a nation, we are becoming used to treating disease and its symptoms with pills rather than preventing it.
Why Start Now?
Many individuals don’t start worrying about their health until it has deteriorated and are in need of acute care. The problem here is that chronic conditions (like heart disease and type 2 diabetes) are not very treatable in the final stages. Most medical care at a late stage is aimed at managing not treating.
The key is preventing the disease by practicing a healthy lifestyle and being proactive about health. This means regular exercise, a well-balanced diet, healthy relationships, and doctor visits early on. This can be hard for young individuals who cannot yet see and feel the adverse effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is these individuals who are the most likely to spend their final days in a hospital bed with a poor quality of life.
What Happens As We Age?
A lot happens in the body with age. The risk for chronic disease rises and recovery becomes less likely. Vascular diseases, for example, are more likely with age. The environment of blood vessel lining gradually shifts from being anti-thrombotic/ anti-atherosclerotic to being pro-thrombotic/pro-atherosclerotic (2). This means that the environment opposes plaque formation and abnormal blood clotting when we are young and favors it when we are older- regardless of lifestyle. An unhealthy lifestyle here will only further the risk of disease while a healthy one will lower it.
What else can happen?
- Loss of bone density
- Cognitive abilities decline/Sleep problems
- Slowed metabolism
- Loss of muscle mass
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Cancers (become more likely)
While many of the conditions on this list are multifactorial, age plays a significant role in their development. Actions taken now as younger individuals will determine whether we will still be able to bathe and dress ourselves at an older age. Age is a better and more serious motivator for practicing a healthy lifestyle. How would you like to spend your final days?
- Gawande, Atul. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Picador Books, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt & Company, 2014.
- Camici, Giovanni G. “Aging – Risk Factors and Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases.” Coursera, University of Zurich- Center for Molecular Cardiology, University Heart Center of Zurich, www.coursera.org/learn/infarction/lecture/qAy6n/aging.