In the recent article “Why I Hope to Die at 75”, oncologist Ezekiel J. Emanuel outlines all the reasons he will not work to prolong his life after the age of 75. While it is a bit of a depressing read, I can’t say that I disagree with any of his points. His essay addresses the fact that by 75 you have probably peaked professionally and experienced most of life’s major events, but what I found most interesting was the discussion on how old age can be a burden on families. As someone who spends a lot of my time researching and writing about senior health and wellness, let me just tell you that the future of aging doesn’t look good.
Sure, Americans are living longer, but a larger percentage of people suffer from several chronic diseases that require constant treatment. In addition, more and more older Americans suffer from mobility problems that severely limit their ability to care for themselves. We are relying on medication to prolong our lives and sacrificing our quality of life. Perhaps, worst of all, we are placing the burden of our ill health on family members and loved ones who are forced to become caregivers.
It would be one thing if our poor health was the natural result of aging, but we all know that our lifestyle choices are the main deciding factor in our health and quality of life. Sure, some people are genetically predisposed to certain afflictions, but if you know that high blood pressure runs in your family, isn’t it your responsibility to take additional precautions when it comes to diet and exercise?
We focus so much on the way diet and exercise makes us look, but that is the absolute least important side effect of healthy living. Above everything else, living healthy makes us feel better. Exercise is the world’s best antidepressant. Just 30 minutes of walking can boost your mood, improve your sleep, and increase your energy.
Foods high in nutritional value are your best defense against disease. It is a truth that we have seem to forgotten: “Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” said Hippocrates. With certain diseases and ailments, proper nutrition can actually reverse symptoms and help you get back to optimal health.
So why do I bring this all up? To make the point that not taking care of your health is selfish. Maybe you are young enough that thoughts of old age simply aren’t on your radar. That doesn’t mean that your choices don’t have consequences for those around you. Let’s say that you are overweight. Do you get out and enjoy activities with your friends or family as much as they or you would like? Now let’s look down the road to when you are 75 and overweight. Your body is already facing the challenges of aging and extra weight adds extra stress. This can lead to diabetes, heart disease, strokes, etc. Is it fair to your loved ones to make poor choices for yourself that will also affect their lives?
You can’t always prevent disease and you certainly can’t prevent aging, but you can make choices now and for the rest of your life that will protect your health, increase your quality of life, and make sure that your family and friends don’t have to go through the painful and stressful experience of caring for someone who didn’t care for themselves.