What is health?

February 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm Leave a comment

Do you enjoy good health? What is health anyway?

A lot of people define health as the absence of disease. The reasoning is: “I don’t have a disease, therefore I am healthy”. When do we know we have a disease? Usually not until some symptoms surface to alert us to the fact that all is not well and we go to the doctor for a diagnosis. We then begin treating the symptoms and may not even be fully cognisant of the underlying causes. Many diseases develop over a long period of time, so the absence of symptoms does not guarantee the absence of disease.

What about ageing? Can we be healthy as we age? Do we have to lose mobility, suffer arthritis, dementia and diabetes, rattling from the volume of blood pressure and other tablets we need to control the myriad outworkings of old age?

Our definitions and expectations of age are changing. In 1924 the average Australian male lived for 60 years, and the average female lived for 64 years. Have a look in a family photograph album at pictures of your parents and grandparents at 50 years of age. At 50 they were old people – only a little more than 10 years from death. Advances in medicine and better health care have now pushed life expectancy to 78 for men and 83 for women. Today’s 50 year old has 30 years or more of life ahead of them!

We are starting to realise that we need to invest in our health and wellness to be able to enjoy the longer lifespan with which we have been blessed. It is possible to have a biological age which is lower than our chronological age. In 1991 Evans and Rosenberg formulated a list of 10 measurable “biomarkers of ageing”. They are:

1 muscle mass
2 strength
3 basal metabolic rate
4 body fat percentage
5 aerobic capacity
6 blood sugar tolerance
7 cholesterol/HDL ratio
8 blood pressure
9 bone density
10 ability to regulate internal body temperature.

All of these biomarkers of ageing can be altered for the better by changes in lifestyle. Muscle mass and strength are the primary biomarkers. As we start to age and the “mid life spread” begins, many of us focus on losing or maintaining body weight, but that is not the key thing. Our target should be body composition, improving the ratio of muscle to fat. The key is to minimize inactive fat tissue and maximize active muscle mass. People with a greater ratio of muscle to fat burn more calories, enjoy a higher metabolism and don’t have to worry as much about gaining weight or about how much they eat. Conventional wisdom that muscle mass and strength decline with age, accelerating after 45, is wrong. If you use your muscles frequently, you can maintain their strength. And, if you push your muscles to the limit of their capacity by exercise, you can actually increase their strength—no matter what your age.

The ultimate goal of controlling the 10 biomarkers of ageing is to extend our years of good health and compress the years of decline. By making positive changes in your biomarkers through a combination of exercise (especially strength training) and eating right, you can enjoy optimal health – right throughout your life.

Contact me if you would like more information on achieving optimal health:  suzimorrisblog@gmail.com

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Entry filed under: Health and wellness. Tags: , , , , , .

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