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Canadians Living Longer, Living Better

By on October 22, 2015
Screen Shot 2015 10 22 at 10.40.47 AM 300x336 - Canadians Living Longer, Living Better

It’s no secret that Canadians are living longer. According to Statistics Canada, life expectancy has steadily increased from 59 years of age for men and 61 for women in the early 1920s to 79 years of age for men and 83 years for women as of 2012; a twenty year increase – not bad at all. 

However, there is a difference between quantity and quality. We might be increasing life expectancy but can we automatically say the same thing about health expectancy? 

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the average Canadian will spend the last 10 years of their life with sickness and disability, but this needn’t be the case. With the right frame of mind and attitude, and a few tweaks of the average modern diet, maintaining vitality as we age is possible.

Chronic disease – the reality of growing older is an increased risk for chronic and degenerative disease. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports the following leading causes of death in the elderly; cancer (40%), circulatory/cardiovascular (28%), respiratory (8%), and endocrine/metabolic (5%) for those between 67 and 79 years of age. This shifts a bit for those 80 and over; circulatory (38%), cancer (19%)], and respiratory (11%) account for the greatest amount of disease and disability. While dementia-related diseases such Alzheimer’s are rare, there is both cardiovascular and metabolic involvement; increased insulin resistance (pre-diabetes), diabetes and the accompanying elevated LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol. 

The good news is, there are a lot of preventative steps that can be taken where diet, activity, and supplements are concerned to greatly reduce the risk for, as well as manage the degree to which these common ailments impact your health expectancy, not the least of which is your state of mind.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, mental outlook matters. Chronic stress exposure, how we perceive and react to stress and negative emotions not only influence how we deal with illnesses, but can contribute to their development via the impact of levels of stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, inflammation and more. 

Modern diet dilemma – by now most appreciate the role of a healthy diet on longevity but this can seem more elusive in many ways given the modern diet. We are surrounded by foods that are lower in nutrients, of poorer quality and those that highjack our brain’s pleasure centres. Many processed and fast foods have been designed to have the perfect combination of fat, sugar and salt so that they are extremely rewarding; as such, we’re hardwired to seek them out and/or to respond to the innumerable cues in our environment to eat them often displacing healthier options. The modern diet is notoriously lower in fibre, high in sugar; contains a lot of refined grains, which lack several minerals, and most of us are missing the mark when it comes to getting enough disease-fighting vegetables.

As we get older, several key nutrients become increasingly important when it comes to reducing the risk for chronic diseases, such as, vitamins A, B12, folate, and D, magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 fats.

Screening tests – age-appropriate routine screening still remains an effective strategy to detect signs of early problems. By addressing problems sooner, rather than later, chronic diseases like diabetes for example, can be avoided, or at the very least, their impact on both physical health and quality of life can be greatly reduced. Blood work to check for anemia, B12 or vitamin D status, fasting blood sugar, lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides, blood pressure, thyroid function and age-specific cancer screening like PSA for prostate cancer, mammograms, colonoscopies etc. all remain prudent when it comes to your health surveillance. 

Gut bacteria – maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria is also key to overall better health. They are involved in everything from promoting healthy moods via their role in neurotransmitter production and function, maintaining a strong immune and have been shown to reduce excessive inflammation, as well as, support healthy cholesterol levels and healthy body weights. Maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria is easy: include a variety of sources of dietary fiber, include fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, yogurt with live bacterial cultures in the diet, and avoid/limit lifestyle factors and excess medication use that have been shown to disrupt our gut ecology.

Supplements – a good multivitamin with minerals, extra vitamin D, omega-3 fats and a probiotic are great foundational supplements to have in your repertoire. Some may need some extra magnesium depending on their habitual diet and some medications they’re taking, and/or if they are managing high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or diabetes and metabolic syndrome. 

Curcumin – if there was one all-purpose yet powerful phytonutrient to consider it would be curcumin hands down; this compound has  many positive benefits from a global health perspective not the least of which is its anti-inflammatory properties. 

Doug Cook, RD, MHSc is a registered dietitian with a focus on functional medical nutrition therapy. He is the coauthor of “Nutrition for Canadians for Dummies” (Wiley, 2008) and “The Complete Leaky Gut Health & Diet Book” (Robert Rose, Spring 2015). Visit his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter, or check out his website: www.dougcookrd.com.

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