To live long and stay healthy

September 15, 2010 by  
Filed under AGING

My kids‘ great-grandma on their Dad’s side is turning 90 this coming Friday. 90!!! She lived through the Second World War, brought up 2 children while working full time, and has enjoyed the company of 2 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. And she still lives in her own apartment, cooks for herself and for the younger generations that come by to visit her from time to time. For me, this is so mind-boggling that somebody can live that long, and still be independent and self-sufficient. True, she suffers from certain age-related problems like sleep and digestion problems and she has seen her friends and others of her generation die one by one. But her heart is beating strongly and her brain is far from being senile. And she is mobile, even if rather slow.

Every time we go and visit Ur-Oma as we call her in German, I always wonder about my own longevity. My own parents lived till their 70s but during the last few years of their lives, they were bedridden, and my mom even had dementia. Will I live as long as Great Grandma without disability?

Germany, with a life expectancy of 80 years, is among the top 25 countries when it comes to longevity of its population, according to the most longevity of its population, according to the most recent statistics from the World Health Organization. Yet, living up to 90 in this country is pretty remarkable, so remarkable that our Great-Grandma will be visited by the pastor and the local mayor this coming Friday, who will personally congratulate her on behalf of the congregation and the town.

I am happy to observe that unlike the elderly of Japan who live alone, unattended, and unaccounted, most senior citizens in Europe are well-taken care of. In our local weekly newspaper here in a small Swiss town where we live, the birthday greetings for senior citizens share the same page with the obituaries. And the former usually outnumbers the latter.

You would say that such an observation highlights the problems facing our developed society: aging population and skyrocketing health care costs, low birth rate and negative population growth.

According to German and Danish researchers on aging issues:

“Increasing numbers of people at old and very old ages will pose major challenges for health-care systems. Present evidence, however, suggests that people are not only living longer than they did previously, but also they are living longer with less disability and fewer functional limitations.”

The last statement is the silver lining to cloud of impending demographic crisis that experts are warning us about. Living long should not enough. Like Great Grandma, living to a very ripe age and still be healthy and sound in body and mind should be our goal in mind. Happy Birthday, Ur-Oma!

Life expectancy figures

November 18, 2009 by  
Filed under AGING

birthday_cakeLife expectancy is better than ever, at least in developed countries, according to the most recent statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) from 2007

Japan tops the list in terms of life expectancy at birth with 79 years for men, 86 years for women, and an overall life expectancy of 83 years in 2007. Not far behind are Italy, Switzerland and San Marino with an overall life expectancy of 82 years. Below is a list of countries whose population is expected live up to 80 or older:

  • Japan – 83 years
  • Andorra, Australia, Italy, Iceland, Switzerland and San Marino – 82 years
  • Canada, France, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and Israel – 81 years
  • Cyprus, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Malta – 80 years

The United States did not make it to the top 25, with a life expectancy at birth of 78 years.

On the other end of the spectrum are the following countries:

  • Sierra Leone – 41 years
  • Afghanistan – 42 years
  • Lesotho and Zimbabwe – 45 years
  • Chad and Zambia – 46 years
  • Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Uganda –  48 years
  • Burkina Faso, Burundi, Mali, and Nigeria – 49 years

The two lists above clearly show that life expectancy is highest in highly developed countries. A person born in Japan is most likely going to live twice as long as somebody born in Sierra Leone. Another trend to be seen in the figures is that life expectancy is increasing in high income countries but not in the low income countries.

German and Danish researchers report that 75% of children born in those countries with high life expectancy (e.g. 80+ years) will live up to the age of 75 if the health conditions stay as it is now. If health conditions improve and life expectancy continues to rise, children born since 2000 in rich countries can live up to 100.

This means that in rich countries, despite problems with obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic illnesses, people are living longer.

So why are people in rich countries living longer? The answer lies in better health care and advances in medical treatments.

This may sound great, especially for us who live in rich countries because it seems like we are finally winning the battle against aging and diseases. However, there are some downsides to this good news.

 According to the study authors:

“Increasing numbers of people at old and very old ages will pose major challenges for health-care systems. Present evidence, however, suggests that people are not only living longer than they did previously, but also they are living longer with less disability and fewer functional limitations.”

According to Richard Suzman, an aging expert at the U.S. National Institute on Aging:

“We are within five to 10 years of a watershed event where there will be more people on Earth over 65 than there under five. Those extra years need to be financed somehow and we need to start thinking about it now.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Air pollution and cardiovascular disease Part II

February 26, 2009 by  

In a previous post, , I tackled the cardiovascular effects of air pollution, especially the traffic generated fine particles. Aside from cardiovascular problems, air pollution also has some respiratory and neurological affects as well as effects overall life expectancy. A report in the January issue of the New England Journal of Medicine showed that a reduction in fine particle air pollution resulted in measurable increase in life expectancy.

Air pollution causes approximately 2 million premature deaths worldwide. Young children and the elderly are especially susceptible.

Developed countries

Legislations for pollution take time to implement. As early as 1997, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to set health standards on air pollution. However, it was only 10 years later that the Clean Air Fine Particle Implementation Rules were in place. Even now, the attainment of the standards is not that easy.

In January 2008, Germany set the so-called low-emission zones all over the country. Each vehicle in the country or entering the country is required to have an emissions control sticker on the windscreen. These stickers will determine whether a vehicle is allowed to enter a zone. Thus, in large cities like Berlin and Cologne, only cars low emission stickers are allowed to enter, in order to mitigate fine particle pollution in urban areas. The stickers are issued by government agencies and classification is based on the model of the car, the age, the fuel used, and the last emission check.

In Switzerland, an efficient and reliable public transport is the key to reducing vehicular traffic. Many small towns in the Alps are declared “car-free” and all vehicles should be left outside of the towns while the towns themselves are serviced by buses and electric cabs.

Rapidly developing countries

The major concerns of air pollution, however, are not in the US or Europe but the rapidly developing economies like China and India. According to the National Geographic, air pollution in China is the “deadliest in the world.” This conclusion is based on a WHO report which estimated that “diseases triggered by indoor and outdoor air pollution kill 656,000 Chinese citizens each year, and polluted drinking water kills another 95,600.” The same pollution caused concerns during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Among the most toxic of pollutants in the air are sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide and China accounts for about one-third of the global total for these pollutants.

India is another country that is generating a lot of air pollution. Recent studies have also shown increasing incidence of cardiovascular problems in areas in India associated with air pollution. Over half a million air pollution-related fatalities a year have been reported for India. Estimate for the US is at over 40,000 a year.

Air pollution is a global problem and it doesn’t recognize national boundaries or geographical barriers. Thus, what a country does in curbing pollution may easily be jeopardized by what its neighbor(s) are doing. Clearly, there is a need for anti air-pollution initiatives and legislations on a global scale.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.