It's World Health Day on 7 April 2012. People are living longer and life expectancy continues to improve around the globe. Living well is key to ensuring that older people remain healthy, the Heart Foundation.Before the end of this century, the world will have more older people than children. People are living longer and life expectancy continues to improve around the globe, but living longer is just one part of the equation – living well is the key to ensuring that older people remain healthy, energetic and involved in their communities and society as a whole.
In South Africa, we have the largest percentage of older people in the Southern African region. Moreover, many previously disadvantaged older South Africans have no medical insurance. As the world’s population continues to age, South Africa is no exception and the social and economic implications of an ageing population will need to be addressed.
What can government and communities do?
Evidence suggests that moderate physical activity can help to improve and prolong mobility in the elderly, yet as age increases, physical activity often decreases. This sort of decline in activity levels is more pronounced in women, low-income groups and in persons with low education levels.
Education and awareness are therefore key as well as adequate provision of age-friendly, community-based exercise and recreation facilities. Furthermore, improved access to basic primary health care as well as long-term care is necessary.
But perhaps the most important role for government and community leadership bodies lies in acknowledging the value of older people and the contributions they make to family and community life. Older people are a valuable resource in society and should feel valued.
What can individuals do?
- No time like the present
Although it is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle, starting early will make sure that your later years are not only long, but also healthy. Studies show that children’s arteries start showing atherosclerosis from as early as two years of age, which means the effects begin in utero. Whatever your age, regular exercise is crucial, so don’t delay.
- You don’t need to run the Comrades
Exercise for older people needn’t be strenuous. Further studies have shown that low intensity, seated exercise can significantly reduce systolic blood pressure, the first number recorded in a blood pressure reading, and improve balance in older people. Poor balance is a major contributory factor in falls and other accidents. Exercises may include seated marching, leg raises, knee raises and heel raises for the lower body, and bicep curls, front and side arm raises, shoulder and chest press, performed with light weights, for the upper body. Single leg balancing exercises are also beneficial.
- Know your numbers
Get tested! The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa recommends getting your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose tested at least once a year and more often if you have a family history of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes or any cardiovascular disease.
- Eat healthily
Small, regular meals and a healthy, balanced diet which includes a variety of fruits and vegetables (at least five servings a day) as well as foods that are high in fibre (e.g. whole grains and nuts) are recommended. Avoid fatty foods, especially those that are high in saturated fats (e.g. full cream dairy products, meat, chicken skin and fried foods). Limit total salt intake to less than one teaspoon (5g) per day.
Taking care of your health throughout life helps make the most of the positive aspects of ageing, and making a few small changes can make all the difference.
- (Health24, April 2012)