We live in a time that is redefining what it means to be young or old. Ageing, once considered an immutable fact of life, is now a vibrant field of inquiry proving many traditional assumptions false.
We hear, 50 is the new 30.
It sounds great. But determining how to make use of the explosion of new data remains rather confusing. Even after culling the infomercials, pseudoscience, and bad research, the head scratching persists.
The first thing you notice as a health information consumer is the absence of consensus on the most basic issues.
What is the best diet?
What is the best form of exercise?
How often should you exercise?
How much sleep should you get?
Are vitamins essential or dangerous?
How often should you see a doctor?
What are the essential health tests and how often should they be performed?
Much of the confusion stems from a problem with the questions. What are we asking? What is the best diet, exercise, sleep pattern, or testing, for what?
This might seem obvious: for health, of course. But then we must be able to define health, measure it, and show how something, like diet, affects it. Here, it gets messy.
Health, historically the domain of medicine, has been defined by its supposed opposite. Health is the absence of disease. Yet surely there is a difference between not being sick and being well.
How do we go about maximizing this later category?
Thinking of health as a capacity to achieve something meaningful may be a good place to start. This takes health beyond the impoverished one-size-fits-all concept of normal test results and absence of disease. It invites the individual back into the picture and asks what makes life worth living.
Not only would there be a wide range of responses from different people but also from one individual over the years. Such a perspective allows a much more informed answer to many of the confusing questions mentioned above. It also creates goals that motivate change in a way that target blood values or weight or blood pressure does not.
This approach enlists health in the service of living a specific life. The individual, not the doctor or medication, is the most powerful agent on the team.
Life is not the absence of death. And age is not a disease.