Humans are creatures of habit. We like routines. We enjoy knowing what to expect, without getting overly comfortable to the point of drudgery. Our eating, exercise, and general health habits are no exception. If you can get used to working out now, you’re more likely to continue that trend as you get older. If you learn to enjoy fruit and only occasionally indulge in chocolate cake, that’s something you won’t have to change when you get older.
In other words, one of the key reasons for developing your health habits now is that it cuts down on the work of having to change those habits later. But that’s just one of the things you can do. Many studies have shown a direct correlation between poverty in childhood and health outcomes later in life. That means you start laying the foundation for your health in childhood, and it never stops.
At any point in your life, you’re probably considering the future. When you’re a child or a teenager, the future is relatively short-term. It might relate to the play date you have after naptime, or the homecoming dance that’s coming up next month. The older you get, the further you start to look ahead. Late in high school, college applications and work, or both, become your reality. You have to plan how to manage those, and your personal health often falls by the wayside.
Once you start to establish yourself, your attention often turns to the next big rite of passage: finding a partner. Then, it turns to children, because even if you decide not to have them, you must still have a serious discussion. These life decisions tend to upset the comfortable balance you’ve created between work and leisure, and often help disturb any healthy habits you’ve managed to develop during the calmer periods.
At some point, most people start looking to the future. Especially when you start having kids, the future suddenly becomes more important and seems to be rushing toward you a lot faster. You probably think about retirement, college savings for kids, or major purchases such as a car or home. You may not be thinking about your health, though, and that’s a mistake.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 33 percent of men and 50 percent of women over 75 engage in no physical activity at all. As soon as you stop moving daily, health problems start setting in. Exercise isn’t just a weight-loss tool or a way to look good. It’s a vital aspect of longevity. The recommendations don’t change, even for seniors. A minimum of 30 minutes a day of cardiovascular activity is recommended for everyone, no matter how old you are.
Health’s Cumulative Effects
Eating one cheeseburger every two months isn’t enough to take a serious toll on your health. It takes a combined effect of long-term poor dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle. There is no way to avoid all the risk factors for everything. Some people are just more likely to develop heart disease than others, but you can take steps now to reduce your likelihood later in life.
Most chronic diseases that are associated with age, including Type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even dementia are the result of long-term decisions, not occasional splurges.
Skin is a good example. Up to 25 percent of the sun damage we get occurs by the time we turn 18. While there’s plenty of time to acquire more sun damage, that’s a pretty significant amount of damage to get at a very young age. Even just one or two severe sunburns in childhood can increase your risk of skin cancer. That alone should demonstrate just how important your choices today are.
Shaping Tomorrow, Today
You won’t have a chance to go back 10 years and develop healthier habits. You can, however, think about what you want your future life to look like, and take steps toward that today. Most people want things like travel, excitement, and financial security, but all those things fall apart with poor health. It’ll eat up your savings, and it will diminish your ability to travel or even help your family.
Your health choices, today, will determine the opportunities you have later in life. You don’t have to suddenly switch to an all-star, pro athlete’s diet and workout routine. For most people, that would be a fast way to get injured! Small changes are your best option. Start eating one salad a day. Stop eating in front of the TV.