Many of us look toward the future, and we wonder about financial well-being, educational learning, or towards having secure housing. But, how often do we think about our future health? If we don’t take our future health into consideration, we may not be lucky enough to enjoy the other things we look forward to. Quality of life as we move forward relies heavily on how we take care of ourselves.

What’s The Big Deal?

            Do you ever think or worry about your future health? Are there health-related issues that leave you concerned or worried? Unsurprisingly, you can greatly influence your later-life health outcomes with small actions you take now. For example, investing in the lowering of stressors in your life now, can lead to lessened long-term weight-gain [1], decreased cellular aging [3], and lowered rates of depression [2]. (For the how to lower stressors, we’ll look deeper into that when we get to the stress section.) But this is just in regards to a single contributing factor. What could our lives look like if we took into account the vast assortment of long-term health contributors that there are?

For a simplified version of how each health contributor interacts with the others, look to the graphic below:

Health Pyramid (1).png

Long-Term Health Outcomes

            Imagine your life at 60 years old. You’ve just come out of your doctor’s office. They’ve given you a glowing review. “You’ve got the health of a person 10 years younger!” your doctor remarks. It may sound like a fairy tale, but it’s completely possible if you can adopt the few simple ideas described here!

            Let’s take a look at each level in the health pyramid to see what small things you can do to improve your long-term health outcomes. (Most are straightforward):

Sleep

            Longer sleep – Equals – Longer life (and a healthier mind throughout that life).  Sleep is the first subject to ensuring you’re living your healthiest possible life. Sleep quality and length is the most reliable predictor of longevity in humans [10]. After just one night’s sleep loss, there is a negative effect on metabolism that leads to increased fat storage in the body [8]. Prolonged sleep deprivation has an effect on everything, including increasing levels of hunger hormones in the body, decreasing physical strength, decreasing cardiorespiratory fitness, and a marked decrease in memory and neurological function [11]. It has such an enormous effect on our health, that we really can’t afford to be taking our sleep for granted any more.

Here are a few take-home healthy sleep practices (Take them to bed 😊)

Healthy Sleep Practices.png

Nutrition

            Only in recent history have humans had constant access to food. Our bodies have not adapted to the constant caloric intake and ease of access to food that we now experience. There are many benefits to your longevity that come from two ways of treating food wisely: Healthy feeding and fasting periods. This prevents overconsuming on snacky calories. The benefit of this is that it helps to prevent a constant influx of insulin that can lead to insulin resistance over time [1] (THAT’S THE FIRST STEP TO OBESITY, DIABETES, AND WORSENING HEALTH)

            A few quick points to consider:

1.       Eat More Fiber: increasing life expectancy can be found by increasing dietary fiber consumption.

2.      Eat Unprocessed Foods: maintaining a healthy microbiome by eating a diverse assortment of unprocessed foods.

3.      Fast For A Number Of Hours Daily: Attempt to keep your eating period to within a 10-12 hour window.

It is that simple! 1-2-3!!

            Finally, avoiding added sugars, lowering our regular consumption of alcoholic beverages, and having deliberate eating habits (2-3 meals a day… No Snacking!) can contribute to longevity as well [1]. As long as you practice conscious eating, restrict the amount of added sugars, and eat a diverse diet inside of a reasonable time window each day, your health and lifespan win.

Fitness

            Let’s take a look at our current lifestyles when it comes to exercise. Are we getting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic movement per week? Are we including at least 1 strength-training session per week? We should be!

             The National Cancer Institute, in a study of 650,000 adults found that meeting this level of activity extended life-expectancy by an average of 4.5 years [5].  That’s not the entire benefit either. Exercise improves later-life physiologic and psychologic function [6], reducing neurodegenerative disease [9] and maintaining proper bodily function. The strength training ensures recovery from falls, maintenance of balance, and actually is a good indicator of longevity in humans. This is important to remaining independent, as well as being aware of your surroundings, with the ability to interact with them.

             One study identifies that if we go beyond the 150 minutes per week, we see that elite cardiovascular athletes have an 80-percent reduced mortality risk when compared to lower performers [7]. This study goes on to state that there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the benefit from aerobic fitness. Small steps from the 150 minutes a week is all it takes to reach this next healthy fitness level.

A summary of our get-active targets:

Longevity Physical Activity.png

Stress Management

            Yes, stress management is another major component of a healthy life. When you have chronic stress your body responds by releasing a larger than normal level or cortisol. While cortisol can be important in certain situations, inappropriately-high levels in the immediate short term can lead to things like: weight gain, irritability, severe fatigue, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, and headaches [13]. So, it stands to reason that we would want to avoid elevated cortisol in the long run as well.

            Long-term effects of stress exposure lead to all sorts of issues with almost every body system. Elevated risk of heart disease, obesity, anxiety, and depression are just a few of these [13]. Everyone has high cortisol levels from time to time, but we’d like to lessen it’s effects by keeping healthy stress-mitigation practices. 

Some of these stress-mitigation practices are:

Healthy Stress Mitigation.png

Cognition

            This one may sound like a surprise addition at the end, but cognitive decline is heavily associated with survival time in the elderly population [14]. So, it is clearly important that to live a long life, and to do so healthfully and independently, that we make our brain’s function an important part of our lives. How can we maintain our healthy brain function? We’ve included some of the recommended practices below:

Healthy Cognition Maintnance.png

Conclusion

            With all of the above taken into consideration, it really isn’t that hard to give yourself the best shot at making your elder years enjoyable and functional. If you’re planning for your later life from a financial perspective can you really afford to leave out your health when you invest in your future?                     

 

 

References:

1.       Fung J, Noakes T. The obesity code. Vancouver, Canada: Greystone Books; 2016

2.      Healthline. The effects of stress on your body. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#1 Published June, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2019.

3.      Psychology today. Emotional distress can speed up cellular aging. Psychology today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201404/emotional-distress-can-speed-cellular-aging

Published April, 2014. Accessed March 7, 2019.

4.      Cleveland clinic. Men’s health: lifestyle tips for men over age 50. Cleveland clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16422-mens-health-lifestyle-tips-for-men-over-age-50 Published January, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2019

5.      National cancer institute. NIH study finds leisure time physical activity extends life expectancy by as much as 4.5 years. National cancer institute. https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/press-releases/2012/PhysicalActivityLifeExpectancy Published November, 2012. Accessed March 8, 2019.

6.      Science daily. Better cardiorespiratory fitness leads to longer life. Science Daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181019120711.htm Published October, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2019.

7.       Science daily. How sleep loss may contribute to adverse weight gain. Science daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180823095946.htm Published August, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2019.

8.      Science daily. Keeping active in middle age may be tied to lower risk of dementia. Science daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190225145650.htm Published February, 2019. Accessed March 8, 2019.

9.      Dement, W C, Vaughan, C. The promise of sleep: A pioneer in sleep medicine explores the vital connection between health, happiness, and a good night's sleep. New York, US: Dell Publishing Co.; 1999

10.   Walker, M. Why We Sleep. New York, US: Scribner; 2017

11.    Fontana, L. Partridge, L. Promoting health and longevity through diet.  Cell. 2015; 161(1): 106-118. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.020  

12.   Healthline. High cortisol symptoms: what do they mean? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/high-cortisol-symptoms Published August, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2019. 

13.   Deeg D J H et al. The association between change in cognitive function and longevity in dutch elderly. American journal of epidemiology. 1990; 132(5): 973-982. Doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a115740

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