Aging is part of our biology as human beings. We will grow older and this fate is set in stone. Directly linked to aging is the incidence of age-related chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis, cancer or cardiovascular disease. Conceptually, as determined by our genes it is not our fault to get these age-related diseases. But we can support our body in delaying biologic aging and staying healthy longer. This is called extending healthy life expectancy.
Extending healthy life expectancy and why it is important
The European population is aging, and the number of seniors aged 70 and older is predicted to increase by 40% by 2030, as will the number of seniors with age-related chronic diseases. This poses a major challenge to modern societies who will directly and indirectly depend on the health of their senior citizens.
The goal as we grow older is to stay active members of our communities. This concept is central to each individual, the society as a whole, and health care providers. If we extend healthy life expectancy, we lay grounds for extending a person’s active contribution to society and reduce health care spending in the best possible way, namely by better health. Thus therapeutic interventions that are effective, affordable, and well-tolerated in the prevention of chronic disease at older age are urgently needed and will have an outstanding impact on public health as a whole.
Modern research in healthy aging
A major focus of modern research on aging is the extension of healthy life expectancy by delaying biologic aging. While longevity is an important goal – it is healthy longevity that this research aims for. How can this be achieved?
One strategy is to study the genes of humans who reached a very high age in good health. Another strategy is to study large cohorts and follow them over long periods of time to identify factors that prolong a healthy life expectancy. This kind of research is called epidemiology. Results of this research needs to be tested and confirmed in a clinical trial to provide evidence that if we recommend – for example vitamin D supplementation to all individuals age 60 years and older – we effectively and safely reduce chronic disease and thereby extend healthy life expectancy.
What are common recommendations for staying healthy at older age?
- Keep a healthy body weight
- Eat a healthy diet (i.e. Mediterranean diet)
- Stay active – walk 30 minutes per day (brisk walking)
- Do not smoke
- Take a vitamin D supplement of 800 IU/day to reduce your risk of falls and fractures