Some things we take as a matter of faith. The sun will rise tomorrow. The other driver will heed the stop sign and not barrel into the intersection as you’re making a turn. Water will flow when you turn on the tap.
And when something you’ve always taken for granted doesn’t happen? It can be disconcerting, to say the least.
For instance, many of us grew up to believe that each generation will live longer and be healthier than the one before it. But life expectancy has actually been going down since the 1980s. And now a recent report from the United Health Foundation suggests that we may not be getting healthier either.
Looking at the health status of Baby Boomers – folks between the ages of 50 and 64 – the authors found that this next cohort of seniors will be sicker than the current one. An estimated 25% more will be obese. Fifty-five percent more will have diabetes.
Overall, aging Boomers will be 9% less likely to say they have “very good” or “excellent” overall health.
There was one bit of good news, though: Boomers are less likely to smoke. And that’s very good news, indeed. There’s not one good thing smoking does to the human body. As Rhonda Randall, senior adviser to the Foundation, told NPR, that kind of change “shows that it’s possible to change health behaviors.”
And overall, they could use some changing. In fact, a study published this past May in Preventing Chronic Disease found that only 6.3% of American adults engage in all five of the key health behaviors identified by the authors:
- Not smoking.
- Exercising regularly.
- Drinking in moderation (or not at all).
- Maintaining healthy body weight.
- Getting enough sleep.
A little over a third of us engage in three of the behaviors. About a quarter manage in two or four. Just over 8% engage in only one. Unsurprisingly, most Americans fall short when it comes physical activity and weight management.
But all are important. For “these behaviors,” co-author Dr. Wayne Giles told Live Science,
tend to reinforce each other…. For example, some people tend to smoke when they drink, and we know that physical activity can be important in helping people obtain adequate sleep, and inadequate sleep, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol are all related to obesity.”
And these are just the fundamentals – the basic things needed to lower your risk of disease, the ABCs of prevention. And from a public health perspective, it’s enough of a goal to aim for those.
But individually, we can choose to do more – to aim not just for good health (i.e., the absence of disease) but for optimal health, Radiant Health. This means tending to more than just the body’s basic physical needs. It means tending to mind and spirit, too. Those tend to reinforce each other, as well.
Pursuing optimal health – or not pursuing it – is a choice we each make every day for ourselves.