Monday, 3 November 2014

Staying active helps in old age

I have blogged before about elderly people running and the immense benefits of a healthy life style.  This is supported further by an article I spotted recently in the The Telegraph.  The article explains how in 1979 a group of 2,500 men were asked to follow a healthy lifestyle and were then monitored to see how healthy they were in the years that followed.
Photo: Wales News Service
They were given five easy steps to follow:
  • Eat well (plenty of fruit and vegetables)
  • Work out (i.e. get some exercise)
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy weight 
  • Never smoke
Astonishingly only 25 of these men had actually stuck to those principles over the 40 year period.  That is a tiny 1% who actually managed to completely do the right thing.  These are now the fortunate ones who have, according to the study, drastically reduced their chance of suffering the main killers in the western world - cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.  Even the prevalence of dementia has been reduced.

The volunteers were all from Caerphilly, in Wales, and were expected to maintain a recommended level of physical activity which could be walking a couple of miles each day or cycling or 10 minutes each day.  This combined with all of the other healthy steps meant that the volunteers who stuck to the programme were statistically far less likely to suffer from any of the diseases.  Now of course, there is never going to be a guarantee that keeping to the rules will make you immune from any particular illness but the chances are they are less likely to occur.  Or if they do occur, they may come later.

My own view

My own view is exactly the same; I'm more able to avoid any of these diseases by maintaining a healthy lifestyle but I cannot be 100% certain.  After all, I could go running or cycling, have a road crash and end up in hospital, or worse!  However, I know I'd be ever so optimistic that I would be able to recover quickly from any mishap.  I cannot go through life wrapped up in a plastic bag, just in case something untoward might happen.

So why is it....?

We all know the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle and it amazes me how people disregard a healthy future in order to "enjoy" an alternative lifestyle in the short term.  There seems to be a few different groups of people in the UK who either:
  1. Don't know about healthy living at all, or
  2. Do know about healthy living but not ready, able or empowered to make the changes, or
  3. Do know about healthy living but have consciously taken a different route, or
  4. Do know about healthy living and are doing okay, or
  5. Do know about healthy living and are obsessed 
Now I know these groups are a bit crude and it might be difficult to put everyone into a group.  Different communities will have different needs as will different age groups.  Some might argue poverty has an effect, perhaps limiting people to group 1 or 2 - this is plausible, to an extent.

Sometimes when I'm at work in Stevenage, I will take a lunchtime stroll through the town centre shopping area.  Perhaps you might think I am being bigoted or snobbish, but I have been astonished at the huge numbers of unhealthy people waddling around.  One of my friends would be talking about Mrs Lard and her little lumps of fat following her around, though I won't be quite so indelicate.  The people I am talking about here are often significantly overweight, smoking, hanging around McDonalds while they wait for a bus.  Could be of any age but often young parents with tattoos and pushchairs and bags of shopping.  Older people buzz around on mobility scooters, sometimes steering one handed and puffing away on a cigarette with the other.

Stevenage is in Hertfordshire.  Hertfordshire as a whole is prosperous, well educated and has a generally good life quality for its residents.  There are pockets, however, of real deprivation and Stevenage is one of those places where there are a few wards of higher social needs.  This shows itself as increased levels of unemployment, physical and mental health problems, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, crime, debt and so on.

Why is it like that?  Undoubtedly a complex picture and no easy single solution.  In years gone by the  "on your bike" mentality might have been applied by those who should know better.  Nowadays I think Public Health people will be doing their best to address these problems and improve the picture.

Caerphilly might have a few things in common with Stevenage and yet the 25 men who have chosen a healthy lifestyle show what can be done.  It is saddening to note only a small minority have stuck at maintaining such a healthy lifestyle and it's things like this that spur me on in staying in good shape.


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