End-of-life care will only become more important over the coming decades, with millions of baby boomers meeting the age requirements for both Social Security and Medicare. Lifespans in developed countries have passed far beyond what was expected when services like Medicare (a form of socialized health insurance available to all citizens over the age of 65) were created. In 1965, the year Medicare became law, the mean US life expectancy was roughly 70 years. Nearly fifty years later, with Medicare supporting healthcare services for more citizens than ever before, mean US life expectancy has risen to approximately 78 years. This means the average period of time a person spends in end-of-life care has increased by almost a decade, causing a number of unforeseen consequences in the healthcare industry.
A rise in life expectancy, though heartening in some respects, does not necessarily correlate with better health. So-called “diseases of affluence” (high blood pressure, morbid obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease) are on the rise in developed nations, and the toll on the healthcare industry is set to worsen significantly before it improves. Such conditions are often brought on by a lack of exercise, poor diet, sedentary work life, and pursuing sedentary recreaton. As a result, muscles atrophy (including heart muscle), placing a greater strain on joints, bones, and other tissues. A sedentary lifestyle also produces higher incidences of chronic pain (particularly low back and neck pain) than an active lifestyle, given that muscles are held in a tensed state for long periods of time (such as when staring into a computer monitor). Overly tensed muscles suffer a reduced supply of oxygen and other nutrients, which can lead to painful muscle spasms. Regular exercise can help restore blood supply to afflicted areas and alleviate chronic pain.
Although aging and physical health have a large genetic component, we must attempt to influence our health in whatever positive ways we can, especially if we have a genetic predisposition to certain serious illnesses (such as cancer or heart disease). The practice of actively pursuing these choices is known as a preventive lifestyle. As one might expect, living a preventive lifestyle encompasses regular cardiovascular exercise, healthy dieting, proper weight management, hydration, and rest. Regular checkups with your physicians can also help you adjust your fitness routine as you age, as well as minimize your chances of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. Monitor your progress closely and meet with your physician if you experience any unexpected side effects.