People in Washington are living longer but not necessarily better

People in Washington are living longer but not necessarily better, although there are simple steps that people can take now to improve their long term health and independence. To help Washingtonians find resources they need to turn the later years into healthy years, the Department of Health today announced a new Web-based resource, "Steps to Healthy Aging".

Online resources offer the top ways people can improve health and quality of life in later years and a host of tips backed by scientific evidence. The recommendations are helpful for all age groups but are aimed especially at people in their 40s and 50s. Washington has one of the most rapidly aging populations in the United States.

"By 2020, more than 1 million people in Washington will be age 65 or older — almost twice the number of people in that age group today," said Heidi Keller, health promotion director for the agency. "The bad news: although we are living longer, we probably won’t be very healthy unless we make changes now. The good news: people can take steps now to improve their health, longevity and independence. It’s never too late!"

Top on the list are the three leading contributors to a healthy life: physical activity, good nutrition and avoiding tobacco use. Other recommendations include getting enough calcium, limiting alcohol consumption to moderate amounts, getting regular medical and dental checkups, getting immunized, and using medications properly.

"Perhaps the most surprising is the importance of staying socially connected with family, friends and community," Keller said. "Social isolation has a measurable impact on people’s health."

Someone who is 20 years old today can expect to live about 60 more years but only about 50 more years in good health. As baby boomers approach retirement age, preventing disease and injury and delaying onset of disease will enable people to stay healthier longer and minimize health-care costs.

Recent research has found that lifestyle habits such as physical activity and nutrition during the 40s and 50s can have a significant impact on health later in life. Keller emphasizes, "It is never too late to adopt healthy habits. Even people who already have a chronic condition or are already in their 80s and 90s can benefit from following these steps."

The agency recommends that people age 45 and older make a habit of Steps to Healthy Aging to reduce the risk of leading causes of disability including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, depression, falls, complications from medications, and others.

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