Great Britain

From cutting down on booze to exercise, steps to take to be healthier in your later years

WHEN you are young, it is tempting to think you are invincible. We’re all guilty of it.

We think disease only happens to older people. We put off worrying about it.

But brave women like Julia, Emma, Darsha and Mel prove it is not that simple.

While it is rare to be diagnosed so young with Parkinson’s, it does happen.

In my career as a GP, I may never encounter a person in their twenties, thirties and forties with the disease. Fewer than 2,000 people under 50 in the UK are living with Parkinson’s.

The women here were all young and healthy and it is unlikely there was anything they could have done to prevent their fate. But their experiences remind us you are never too young to put your health first – to exercise more, eat better or improve your mental wellbeing.

Young people are not invincible. Certain diseases are actually more common in younger people.

Diseases such as meningitis can affect children and young adults, while testicular cancer is typically a young man’s disease, though treatable if caught early.

Certain blood cancers are more common in children, teenagers and young adults, while type-1 diabetes is often diagnosed in childhood.

However, when we look at the biggest killers – heart disease, dementia, cancer – the risk increases the older you get. But we cannot be complacent.

Early signs can be seen in people in their twenties.

How we live now has a direct impact on health in later life. Our lifestyle choices in our twenties, thirties, forties and fifties can determine not just how long we will live but how many healthy years we enjoy.

The first step is being aware and realising that suffering in our later years is not inevitable. Whatever your age, right now we are banking credits for our future health.

Physical activity is a huge part of this. It is not just about getting your heart rate up and sweating it out at the gym. It is also important to build muscle strength to support your joints and metabolism, and work on good balance and coordination.

Small steps make big difference

These start to decline in your early thirties, unless you do something about it. And small steps make a big difference.

I often tell patients to imagine themselves in their seventies or eighties. Do you want to be running around with your grandchildren or even great-grandkids?

Granted, some things are unavoidable. Genetics play a part. But we have a big say in the type of older person we want to be. Taking care of our bones, muscles, brain and circulatory health are all important.

All are impacted, from a young age, by things such as stress, obesity, a lack of physical activity or an unhealthy diet.

But this is not about going from nought to 60mph in seconds. Simple steps to improve your lifestyle can make a huge difference.

Try to eat your five a day, take a daily walk, cut out alcohol for at least half the nights of the week and take steps to quit smoking.

Exercise can be a scary prospect and it is often hard to know where to start. No one expects you to become an Instagram fitness star. It is just about moving more.

I often tell patients to start with gradually building their muscle strength, with ten bodyweight squats a day – do them during an ad break while watching telly or as you wait for the kettle to boil.

If needed, hold on to something to steady yourself. But aim to build up, and push yourself to try more once you feel comfortable.

Why are squats important? Being able to squat could one day determine if you can stay living in your own home independently, because it determines if you can get on and off the toilet without assistance.

The bottom line is, we all have a responsibility to take care of our own health and the first step to doing that is developing awareness.

We cannot all live perfect lives. But we can understand how the way we live has an impact on our future health.

It is never too early, or late, for simple steps toward living a healthier life.

If you are ever worried about any symptom or issue, speak to your GP at the earliest opportunity.

Trust me, your future self will thank you for it.

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