Aging Ability: Gift of the 20th Century

The ability to age--especially I would say, the capacity for healthy aging--heads the list for Gary Becker, Nobel laureate. He names our extended human lifespan as the greatest gift to healthcare in the 20th Century. My thanks to him and to creative commons for the information for this article.

Comparison: Do you happen to know when life expectancy in the western world was 45 years?

(1900 A.D.) And do you also know what to expect today?

75 years, today. That's an increase of two-thirds.

Another comparison: In 1900, birth was a very dangerous business. One in every ten babies--and about the same number of mothers--died during, or soon after, childbirth. Today, the comparable figures for the Western World are near zero.

What, you ask, were people dying from?

Mostly, death was caused by matters beyond their control. If you survived the risks of childbirth, fatal infections were common. Until the discovery of penicillin in the late 1920's, there was little protection against diphtheria, polio, syphilis and tuberculoses. Influenza was a more frequent killer than today.

A healthy knowledge of useful plants would help. However, the Industrial Revolution meant that by 1900, most people lived in towns. Any connections with country knowledge--such as herbal traditions--had been largely lost.

Today, Death is Habit-Related

According to Gary Becker, the causes of death in the 21st century are mainly related to our habits and behaviours.

Examples of deadly habits:

  • over-consumption of fats and non-nutritious (junk) food
  • insufficient exercise
  • overdoses of recreational drugs
  • suicide
  • drunk driving
  • AIDS

Unlike the flu, these do not sneak up on you, willy-nilly. I mean, with care and thoughtfulness, you can avoid many fatal dangers, dangers that would shorten your lifespan.


Three attitudes that will help!

Gary Becker gives us these small steps:

#1 Don't beat yourself up for what you AREN'T doing. Repeat this mantra, "Every day, I'm doing the best I can..."

#2 Make those first habit changes ENJOYABLE! (To encourage myself to get out and walk, I strapped my iPod shuffle around my neck, and chose the best time of day. It was winter at the time, so mid-afternoon was warmest and most appealing. The uplift in energy and attitude I gained immediately "bribed" me to continue.)

#3 Small and consistent change to healthy habits is key. A little bit, compounded daily, will result in great change over time...

...and you have the rest of your two-thirds longer lifespan to change positively!

photo-link: click on photo above for shortcut to Mayo Clinic's exercise guidelines for older people.

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