Live longer, healthier

Live longer, healthier
Susan Saunders

Residents 3000’s “Forum 3000” in October was about health and wellbeing – a popular topic in our online media. The theme of the recent event was to discuss the difference between “lifespan” and “health-span”.

Demographics show that people are living longer. Compared to a hundred years ago, in developed countries, life expectancy has increased from roughly age 50 to 80. Great strides in medicine, food supply and quality of living have contributed to the trend. Longer life spans are hailed as a public health success.

If you are going to live longer, then how will that be? Will the last 15 years of life be miserable, in poor health? Is modern medicine keeping you alive?

Ageing is the biggest risk factor for the big four diseases: heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.

Of course, that is not what you want. You want to live a long life in good health, right to the end if possible. Ideally you would want your health span to equal your life span. As a result of many studies and enhanced medical knowledge, current thinking stresses five main factors that contribute to maintaining your health span as long as possible. These are (in order of importance):


Top of the list. A sedentary existence is not good for the human body. Some vigorous exercise every day is recommended. In fact, one could say “exercise is the ultimate elixir”. The reason is that your body needs to have the heart pumping fast and the blood moving around the body, providing nourishment and repair and maintenance. Vigorous exercise such as running, fast walking, bike riding, tennis and many other activities that get the heart pumping, keep the lungs in top condition so they can efficiently supply life supporting oxygen to all parts of the body. This is known as aerobic exercise.


A strong body can lift heavy objects, bend easily, jump, balance, climb and do all the things that small children do so easily. Strength training keeps muscles in tip top condition to support the skeleton and to make everyday life easy. Muscles are designed to work. Without use they atrophy and make life difficult. Working muscles hard is what they want and need.


Medical science is starting to understand and promote healthier eating practices. Fresh, unprocessed food, minimal sugar and salt, rich in high quality protein, all in moderation, is apparently the best solution. The media is full of diets and recipes to achieve the best result to keep your gut microbiome happy.


Most human beings need at least seven to eight hours of good quality sleep a night. This is when the body works on repairs and maintenance. Your computer brain runs through all the stimulus that it has received during the day and carefully stores those experiences ready to help you navigate your world in the days, months, and years ahead. Rest allows the body to repair and rebuild. Remember that your body is a complicated machine that needs attention every day, while you are asleep.

Mental health

What a complex topic! How does one find a path to mental health when confronted by societal norms, traditions, history, influences from other humans, economic realities and then on top of all that, there is your own complex self?

What about the voice in your head that says “I cannot do that. I am too old, too tired, too unimportant, too stupid, etc.,”. There is a constant battle against negativity and external influences. Somehow you need to find your true self and follow your dream. Debate with the negative voice in your head and make sure that you win.

There needs to be time allocated for self and for reflection. Some people swear by meditation. Others find joy in community. Developing good habits and being clear about what is important to you, helps a lot with mental health. When your world overwhelms and you start to worry, my advice is to break down your problems into little bits and tackle one at a time. Keeping in mind that you need to be yourself. Be compassionate to others but do not lose sight of your own mental wellbeing.

Health span matters

Gradually, as more is understood about the biology of ageing, health practitioners are wanting to focus on the science of prevention rather than waiting until a disease emerges before beginning treatment. The new medicine starts with concentrating on good health practices and body monitoring throughout life, not just when a problem emerges. •

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