Can we have a better later life?

As we enjoy the second half of our life, the issue of longevity begins to weigh on our minds.

There are a lot of theories out there, many of them not based on science at all. But one doctor thinks he has cracked the key to enjoying not just a longer life span, but having quality of life too, or your ‘health span’.

US physician Dr Peter Attia told the ABC many people don’t want a long life if it means medical intervention or living in care in their last decade, what he calls the ‘marginal decade’.

“They want to know that they can pick up their grandkids from the crib. They want to know that they can still go for a walk and if the terrain is a little bit rugged, they’re not automatically going to fall down,” Dr Attia says.

Be prepared

“These are the things that matter to people, and these things they have to be trained for – they have to be prepared for.”

Stanford University-educated Dr Attia believes that, too often, medical intervention extends life span at the expense of health span and we must replace this outdated framework to take action now.

“To just assume we are going to come up with some amazing technological breakthrough that’s going to start defying ageing while not doing all the things we can do with the technology that exists today strikes me as unwise,” he says. 

And the answer is simple, but not everyone is going to enjoy getting there.

“There’s simply nothing that compares to having a high degree of cardio-respiratory fitness as measured by VO2 max [the maximum oxygen uptake during intense exercise], having a high degree of muscle mass … and having high strength,” Dr Attia says.

“The reality is they are going to do more for your life span and health span than any piece of technological or biohacking or manipulation of gut biome or any other thing people are talking about.

“You don’t need a lot of technology for those things, you just need to put in the work.”

Simple solution

That’s right, more exercise. 

“The data are unambiguous: exercise not only delays actual death but also prevents both cognitive and physical decline, better than any other intervention,” Dr Attia says.

“If you take an individual who is doing nothing, we know pretty clearly that getting them up to three hours a week, say six 30-minute bouts of exercise a week, will [significantly] reduce their all-cause mortality, meaning their death from any cause,” he says.

“We simply don’t have other interventions that come close to that.”

Dr Attia also wants us to eat more protein to repair and build muscle mass.

“One of the biggest things we certainly see here in the US, but I suspect that this is true across the world, is that people are not getting sufficient amounts of protein to preserve lean mass. And the consequences of this are actually devastating,” Dr Attia says.

Dr Attia says declining muscle mass is one of the biggest risks in someone over the age of 65 falling, lacking balance or becoming frail.

And Dr Attia says it’s never too early to start to improve your exercise levels and protein intake, in fact, the earlier the better. 

“You have to build up an enormous reserve in those capacities today to cope with and anticipate the inevitable decline that’s going to occur,” he says.

Is exercise an everyday part of your life? Would you consider increasing it given these points? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: Short bursts of exercise may delay Alzheimer’s

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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