Understanding health is a diamond of great value with multiple important facets and the various degrees of healthiness within each depends on functionality is essential. Health is not fixed at one level; it can be improved or diminished by behaviors. It can be dangerously diminished through illnesses from diseases. Most chronic diseases are longstanding, taking a long time to effect our health and can be slowed or reversed by stopping unhealthy behaviors or substituting healthy behaviors. Since disability and death from chronic diseases steadily increases as we age, healthy aging should be our goal.
Healthy aging is basically aging that preserves functional capacity. We are saturated with newly minted health books on proper ways to exercise, eat, interact, and manage our lives better; and some even work, for a while. Most are instruments that make one feel better because something is being done. With all programs to improve physical health feeling better is satisfying but to be of consequence, the changes must continue for decades. In decades, healthy lifestyles have remarkable results.
Realizing that one can be master or slave of their body is the initial step of healthy aging. Incremental improvements in each of the areas of health are keys to success. Attaining and retaining health is a long-term process. Public gymnasiums fill considerably after each New Year’s resolution period, reverting back to the regulars by March.
Proof of healthy functionality extended far beyond what is expected in America by adopting vital lifestyles resides in the enclaves of exceptionally healthy long-lived people—termed Blue Zones. The National Geographic Society commissioned Buettner to study people in these sites around the world and determine their secrets of long healthy living. In contrast to what would be considered true by Americans, there is mostly a negative correlation with wealth. In four of the five Blue Zones, residents there are poorer than their surrounding less-healthy neighbors. Paradoxically, moderate poverty in the Blue Zones forces people into healthier lifestyles. This, of course is augmented by cultural emphasis of healthy behaviors. These include: active exercise and physical work, diets high in plant foods and low in animal protein, reduced caloric intake, religiosity, and socialization.