As a species, we are living longer than ever before and the figures for Canada reflect global trends. Governments are worried, health care professionals are starting to feel the effects of an aging population and many others are concerned about the consequences of aging. What happens when a population lives longer than previous generations? What effect will it have on the country, the economy and the healthcare system?
Statistics Canada’s latest figures show a life expectancy of 83 for females and 79 for males—men have always lagged behind women in longevity. In 1980, Canadian women could expect to live on average to age 79, in 1970 the figure was 76 and in 1960, it was 74. In 1950, the average life expectancy for women was 71, in 1940 it was 66 and in 1920 the number was 61.
Over the course of about 90 years, a woman’s life expectancy in Canada has increased by an astonishing 22 years. Men aren’t far behind at 20 years. Longevity in Canada differs very slightly by province with Ontario and British Columbia holding top spots and Newfoundland and Labrador coming in last place.
Living longer may sound like a positive thing, but if those extended years are miserable, pain-filled, present physical challenges and lack a respectable quality of life, some would argue what point is there to living into our 90s, 100s and beyond if we struggle to sustain a manageable quality of life.
Living a long, healthy, wholesome life is key to maintaining a happy and fulfilled existence well into old age. There are many reasons contributing to longer life expectancy figures, including improved medical care and knowledge, education, better nutrition and so on. When we know better, we tend to do better.
Typically, what we do in our 20s, 30s and 40s can affect how we age and how we manage our health through our 70s, 80s and 90s. Treat your body well and it should repay you in later life. Call it an insurance policy. Abuse it too often and it may let you down when you least expect it.
Life expectancy from birth has increased dramatically since 1900 in Canada where women could once expect to live to just 50 years of age and men to only 47 years. While life expectancy has undergone dramatic change in the past century, living longer is one thing, living longer in good health is quite another.
While longevity is often linked to good genes, our DNA is just one small factor in the healthy aging equation. Since we can’t change our DNA, our sex or our age, focus should be on those factors where we have control such as exercise, nutrition and maintaining regular check-ups with a physician or health care provider.
In Ontario, there are programs in place for women to have regular pap tests and mammograms, and for men, prostate cancer checks. Regular colon cancer checks for both male and females are also recommended as we age. These preventative measures are designed to catch the worst types of cancers early.
Detecting serious disease in its early stages can mean the difference between life and death—or at least a significantly decreased quality of life living with and managing a serious illness. Early detection in such cases is paramount.
None of us know what is around the corner when it comes to our health. There is no crystal ball. Sometimes it can just be simply luck. A key component to living well is prevention. It’s far easier to prevent disease than it is to treat it or live with it.
Along with early detection and prevention, comes moderation. ‘Moderation in everything’ used to be something parents and grandparents would preach to younger generations.
Until recently, smoking and lung cancer were big killers. We live in an age where studies abound on how sitting is the new smoking. It is said loneliness is a modern epidemic. We live in a world where retirement is no longer guaranteed or an automatic requirement. We live in a time where at age 60 or 65, we are no longer put out to pasture where retirees begin a life of slippers and rocking chair once they receive their long service award.
Older generations can teach us a lot about aging dos and don’ts. Ask an older person about their secret to longevity and they may proudly say they never smoked or they remained tee-total—some gleefully insist a tot of whisky is their secret. Others will say having family around makes a difference. Some will say laughter is important. A few will state they kept moving their old bodies even when it hurt to do so. Others will say they did the daily crossword to keep their mind sharp.
Recent studies remind us how loneliness is now the biggest killer of older adults. Social activities, getting involved and staying active is essential. Intimate connections may help us live longer and stronger, but social relationships work just as well. As human beings, we need face-to-face connections and interaction, especially as we age.
Whether baby boomer, Gen Xer, octogenarian or millennial, it’s never too early or too late to begin living and aging well. Treat life as an insurance policy: the more you put in and the longer you contribute, the more you get out of it when you need it the most.
The secret to longevity, the new anti-aging, might be to never stop moving, never stop learning, never stop doing. The ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy still holds true in the 21st century. Aging well means acting smart, but life without a little a fun, daring to step outside your comfort zone, or taking a giant leap of faith from time-to-time is just plain dull. Get out and enjoy every day to the fullest because life should be a blast at any age.
Originally Published: April 26, 2018
Sharon Harrison, Contributor
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Sharon Harrison is a writer, editor and former intellectual property administrator and consultant. Whether editorialist, columnist or freelance reporter, Sharon is a storyteller, photographer, researcher and contributor to many lifestyle publications and media outlets including Grapevine, The Link, The Wellington Times and Countylive. When not hunting for the next interesting story or capturing the perfect photograph, Sharon has a penchant for nutrition and healthy living — and dark chocolate. A foodie, life-long gardener and art lover with a curiosity for mosaics, her inspiration for life comes from the picturesque beauty of Prince Edward County.