‘Old fashioned’ exercise, healthy eating and socialising are secret to keeping healthy in old age, says Chris Whitty
- In his annual report he urged people to turn to methods that are known to work
- Sir Chris also said the elderly are often being asked to take too many medicines
- It is estimated that a quarter of the UK population will be over 65 by 2050
People should adopt ‘old-fashioned’ methods to stay healthy as they age because getting ill is not inevitable, England’s most senior doctor has said.
Professor Sir Chris Whitty called on people to take responsibility for their own health with good diet and exercise, while calling on the Government to do more to make healthy lives the norm.
People are living longer and a quarter of the UK population will be over 65 by 2050.
But it should not be accepted that these extra years will be spent in poor health, in a care home or on a cocktail of debilitating drugs, Sir Chris added.
He advised people to talk to their family and doctor about how they would like to die and how aggressive treatment should be if they do fall sick – and said elderly people may be able to enjoy a better quality of life if they halved the number of pills they take.
Professor Sir Chris Whitty called on people to take responsibility for their own health with good diet and exercise, while calling on the Government to do more to make healthy lives the norm. Publishing his annual report, Health in an Ageing Society, he suggested people should turn to methods that are known to work such as exercise and mental stimulation
Sir Chris (pictured) also advised people to talk to their family and doctor about how they would like to die and how aggressive treatment should be if they do fall sick – and said elderly people may be able to enjoy a better quality of life if they halved the number of pills they take
Research shows that people become less active as they get older, with a third of 75 to 85-year-olds and 57 per cent of people aged 85 and over being physically inactive.
Publishing his annual report, Health in an Ageing Society, Sir Chris said smoking rates are dropping and alcohol intake is falling in some groups, but ‘obesity is going in the wrong direction’.
He suggested people should turn to methods that are known to work, saying: ‘There are a lot of things people can do themselves which will delay the point where they first have disability and then multi-morbidity.
‘They are old-fashioned things, actually.
‘Having lots of exercise, having mental stimulation and a social network, eating a reasonably balanced diet (with) not too much high fat, sugar and salt, moderating alcohol, stopping smoking if you do – these are things which are old fashioned, but they still work.’
Read more: A fairway to keep your brain sharp! Playing golf in your old age could help your mental agility and stave off dementia due to long walks between holes, study suggests
He said maintaining exercise for the longest possible time is known to have a ‘huge positive impact on both physical and mental health in old age’, while eating plenty of fruit and veg cuts the risk of high blood pressure, chronic heart disease and stroke.
The report points to a rise in the availability of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, while places such as takeaways sell ‘large portion sizes of high-calorie foods’.
Government action may include changing these environments, restricting the promotion of high fat, salt and sugar products and using the planning system ‘to restrict the concentration of hot food takeaways in an area’.
Elsewhere in the report, Sir Chris said older people can be robbed of their independence and end up in care when homes, public buildings and towns are poorly planned.
He said ‘being an older person in many parts of the country is extremely difficult’, with houses currently ‘built for young families’ rather than older people.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, he also suggested too many people are given no choice when it comes to life-extending treatments when they may not feel it is in their best interests
Sir Chris suggested art galleries and libraries could have grab rails or ramps to help people move around, while pavements and cycle lanes should be accessible with even surfaces ‘because the key thing people want is independence’.
It added: ‘Homes for older people need to be located in places where they can easily and safely reach the everyday shops and services that they need, preferably by active transport (walking or cycling) to help maintain their physical health.
‘Public and green spaces should be designed to meet the needs of older people, including those with sensory and physical impairments.’
Sir Chris suggested too many people are given no choice when it comes to life-extending treatments when they may not feel it is in their best interests.
He said that ‘extending life may or may not be right thing, and the key question on that should be “What does the patient want?” and that question should be asked.
‘Many people, for example, get rushed to hospital in the middle of the night simply because nobody knows what their wishes are.’
Examples of such treatment might be major operations, chemotherapy, or continuing drugs which have side-effects and whose principal aim is to extend life, or repeated admissions to hospital.
Sir Chris added: ‘One of the things geriatricians are often very good at doing is meeting this person who’s on 25 drugs and just going through it and saying, ‘Actually you just don’t need to have at least half of these. At this point in your life, this is not going to help you, the side effects cumulatively are going to be quite problematic.’
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