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People in Northern Ireland are generally living longer than ever before. In fact, current life expectancy in Northern Ireland is around 75 years for men and 80 years for women.

Life expectancy is increasing due to improvements in health and social care, such as better treatment and drugs and improvements in standards of living.

Ageing is a natural process that affects your appearance and how your body responds to general ‘wear and tear’ and illness. Not everyone ages at the same pace because genes‚ lifestyle choices and environment all play their part.

Some illnesses occur more frequently in older people. These include arthritis, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, osteoporosis, mental impairment, dementia, hearing and vision loss and cancer.

Getting older shouldn’t be confused with being ill and frail. As well as promoting actions which prevent ill health throughout life, efficient treatment of disease and risk factors is also important so that life can be lived to the full.

Screening for treatable diseases, ensuring that medicines are taken appropriately and tailoring care to the individual ensure that many illnesses can now be managed to minimize impact on lifestyles. It is never too late to make healthier choices and improve your quality of life Although symptoms of some diseases tend not to appear until middle age or later, changes to your diet and lifestyle at any age can help reduce your risk of developing, for example, heart disease and stroke, diabetes and some cancers. They can also help prevent an existing condition from getting worse.

Key steps towards a healthier life:

  • Stop smoking, your GP can help you if you are ready to stop
  • Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Eat more fibre-rich foods
  • Eat fish twice a week – especially oily fish
  • Eat less salt – check food for its salt content
  • Keep to a healthy weight and eat less fatty food
  • Keep to safe limits for alcohol – know how much you are drinking
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly
  • Have your eyes tested at least every two years (every year once you are over 70).
  • Take the medicines your doctor advises regularly.
  • Have your medications reviewed by your doctor at least once per year.
  • Do not hoard medicines, give medicines you no longer use back to the chemist.
  • Ensure you reduce the clutter in your home, remove mats, and have good lighting in your home, to help prevent falls, and broken bones
  • Get some fresh air! Vitamin D‚ which is important for healthy bones and teeth is boosted by sunlight - but don’t forget to wear a high factor sunscreen.
  • Go for a walk or do some gardening, or any other form of exercise you enjoy. Keep physically active is good for the heart and lungs

Article by Dr Frances O’Hagan, Armagh GP. Originally published as 'Never too late to look after mind and body', Belfast Newsletter 25 May 2010.

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575

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