Better access to information about healthy living and advances in medical technology mean Americans are living longer. Even just since 1993, average life expectancy at birth has gone up nearly four years. Not only that, the percentage of Americans who are 65 or older has more than tripled since the year 1900. Thanks to Baby Boomers, there are expected to be 70 million senior citizens living in the United States by 2030.
For many people, it isn’t enough to live longer. If you’re going to have more years, it’s important to see to it that they’re good ones, and healthy. Researchers use a measurement called quality-adjusted life expectancy, or QALE, to consider not just how long a person is living but also the degree to which they retain their physical and cognitive abilities and the capacity to lead active, independent lives. Studies have shown that, indeed, people are living better. Improvements in medical care mean that people are not only getting older, they’re staying healthier and recovering more completely from illnesses and injuries.
One change that inevitably happens as we age is that our telomeres get shorter. Telomeres are bits of genetic material at the ends of chromosomes that are not actually involved in traits; their function is to get shorter during cell division and replication that happens throughout a person’s life, protecting the important genetic information. However, because they do get shorter, telomeres are a major focus of aging researchers. Short telomeres are linked with most diseases of old age, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, and osteoporosis. Now scientists have found that there are things you can do to make telomeres longer. A recent study found that eating a largely plant-based diet low in fats, getting moderate exercise, and practicing relaxation techniques can increase telomere length.
Another study confirmed the link between exercise and good health later in life. Mobility limitations, such as difficulty in climbing steps or walking long distances, were found to be an early indicator of a broader decline. Even having to do these tasks in a different way could be a sign of a serious health issue down the road, and addressing physical issues underlying that may slow, halt, or reverse a more general gradual impairment.