Life expectancy, for the most part, has continued to increase for Americans. We no longer think of people who are retiring at age 65 as being old. People are staying active well into their “golden years” and continue to enjoy life.

So, is 70 the new 60? I think it is.

So why has life expectancy increased?

There is a definite parallel between increased life expectancy and advances in medicine. As science continues to advance, we are better able to treat infectious disease, help people survive heart disease, and manage chronic disease like diabetes. Cancer treatment has improved a great deal even from two decades ago.

Combine that with the fact that people are focused on better nutrition and being more active, and now there are joint replacements that are a tremendous help in keeping people active even longer. Still, it is common for people in their 60s, 70s and beyond to complain about pain related to arthritis and back issues. Sometimes this can interfere with their activity.

The fountain of youth?

There are three keys to increasing your chance for a longer life:

  1. Exercise. Being active and focusing on keeping your heart healthy will go a long way toward overall health as you age. In general, strive for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. But more is always good too when it comes to exercise.  
  2. Nutrition. Focusing on a Mediterranean diet that contains fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts is good for the body and the mind. While you may enjoy red meat and potatoes, they’re certainly not necessary for a well-balanced, healthy diet. 
  3. Have a purpose to each day. Setting intentions for your day that support what you find most important is a big part of that. Being more mindful about your words and your actions can help you achieve a sense of harmony and balance. That sense of well-being is good for your overall health.

Things happen

All and all, the outlook for longer lives is good.  Of course, as the life expectancy increases, so do cognitive issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Medical research strives to offer solutions that could make a tremendous difference in the overall quality of life people age. And while brain training activities can be fun, unfortunately, there is no evidence that it makes a difference in the development of Alzheimer's disease or other pathological dementias.

I think what’s important to remember is that sometimes things just happen. We, as Americans, like to think we have control over all things and we tend to forget that many illnesses do just that – they just happen. That means we can increase our statistical likelihood of living longer unless we are affected by happenstance.

So, what is the takeaway? There are steps we can take to live a long, healthy life. At the same time, be cognizant of fate. As we recognize May as Older Americans Month, let’s all live well and try to enjoy every day.

Joseph England, MD

Dr. England is a family medicine physician with Jamestown Family Practice, a Lifespan Physician Group practice, and the chair of Family Medicine at Newport Hospital . He specializes in geriatrics. ​

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