With a significant rise projected in the coming 30 years, the world’s population is also growing older, mentions a 2019 United Nations report — ‘The World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights’, attributing it to increasing life expectancy and falling fertility levels.
“By 2050, one in six people in the world will be over age 65 (16 per cent), up from one in 11 in 2019 (9 per cent). Regions where the share of the population aged 65 years or over is projected to double between 2019 and 2050 include Northern Africa and Western Asia, Central and Southern Asia, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean,” reads the report.
This means we will soon have more older people than children. Keeping this in mind, the World Heath Organisation (WHO) talks in the report ‘Global Health and Aging’ about the central role that health will play moving forward. To ensure people get to live a long and healthy life, it is, therefore, important to focus on healthy ageing.
What is healthy ageing?
According to WHO, “Healthy ageing is about creating the environments and opportunities that enable people to be and do what they value throughout their lives. Everybody can experience healthy ageing.”
Interestingly, healthy ageing does not necessarily mean being completely disease-free. Certain health conditions can be controlled in many older adults, which then hardly affects their overall well-being, says the health body.
So, what are the signs of healthy ageing? Dr Kajal Pandya Yeptho, Chief Dietician, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, mentions the following:
*Survival to a specific age
*Being free of chronic disease
*Autonomy in daily activities
*Living good quality of life
*Mild cognitive or functional impairment
*Little or no disability
This physical and mental “autonomy” that Dr Yeptho points out is something that WHO also focuses on. Known as “functional ability”, it is about “having the capabilities that enable all people to be and do what they have reason to value,” and is a crucial part of healthy ageing.
According to WHO, functional ability includes the intrinsic physical and mental capacity “to walk, think, see, hear and remember.”
Apart from this, a person’s environment–home, community and society– and the relationships and interactions within them also contribute immensely to healthy ageing.
“What is not part of ageing is unintentional weight loss or appetite loss. Forgetting what you ate for breakfast or where you live is not part of ageing. When a person becomes forgetful, argumentative, or neglects self-care, it could be signs of dementia or depression. The family and friends should be supportive and should seek medical attention for further assessment and treatment,” Dr Shalini Joshi, Consultant Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru, tells indianexpress.com.
What are the prerequisites for healthy ageing?
Dr Yeptho says healthy ageing is influenced by healthy behaviours over lifetime which includes proper nutrition, physical and mental well-being. Among these nutrition plays a key role in prevention and management of ageing disorders and conditions. “The consumption of essential dietary minerals like calcium, zinc, iron, Vitamin D, C and B9 promotes bone density and reduces inflammation.”
“Nutrition plays a significant role in how your muscle mass and strength will be in addition to regular physical activity. Elderly people should eat balanced meals with food containing milk and milk products which gives them protein and calcium. Additional calcium is also recommended for women over 50 as per guidelines. Green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, and regular meals are essential to keep oneself fit as we age,” Dr Joshi further emphasises.
Good mental health is also important. “Its absence can lead to improper functioning of the body, substance abuse, poor quality of life and increased mortality,” stresses Dr Yeptho.
Healthy habits for healthy ageing
To ensure healthy longevity, the doctors suggest some simple lifestyle habits to sustain overall well-being. Regular exercise, avoiding consumption of alcohol and smoking, and adequate sleep are some of the main lifestyle tweaks. “We are supposed to exercise for 150 minutes per week and I recommend 10,000 steps a day. One should maintain a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18-22, a BMI above 23 is considered overweight. Talking of nutrition, most of the Indians are used to having white rice, which should be avoided. I strongly emphasise on cutting down on carbohydrates, sugar, soft drinks, bakery products, and maida (all purpose flour),” says Dr K N Manjunath, consultant internal medicine & geriatrics, Vikram Hospital – a unit of Manipal Hospitals.
To ensure mental well-being, Dr Joshi suggests one should remain connected to friends and family. “Don’t forget to ask for help in your time of need. Sometimes when you need to go to a doctor or in case of a medical emergency, reach out to your neighbours. This is also the best time to relax and travel and do things you never got time to do when you had many responsibilities. Yes, you may have to take medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, and other medical issues because it is essential to lead a healthy life without any complications.”
Routine check-ups are important. “After the age of 40, one should follow routine check-ups for cancer and other medical condition that may develop as one ages. A mammogram and a pelvic examination for females after 45 years, every three years until the age of 65. We also recommend a colonoscopy every 10 years after the age of 50, for regular people to rule out colon cancer. If you have a good control on the weight and take your medication correctly, and maintain a healthy lifestyle, you can live a healthy life,” the doctor adds.
Adult vaccination against illnesses is also recommended. “There are adult vaccinations recommended against certain diseases like pneumonia, herpes zester, and influenza, which may protect people in their golden years,” Dr Joshi adds.