Sir Chris Whitty has revealed the “old fashioned” tricks that help you stay healthy and live longer.
England’s most senior doctor called on people to take responsibility for their own health with good diet and exercise, after publishing his annual report which showed “obesity is going in the wrong direction”.
His ‘old fashioned’ tips included simple measures such as not smoking, socialising and exercising.
“There are a lot of things people can do themselves which will delay the point where they first have disability and then multi-morbidity,” he said.
“They are old-fashioned things, actually.
“Having lots of exercise, having mental stimulation and a social network, eating a reasonably balanced diet (with) not too much high fat, sugar and salt, moderating alcohol, stopping smoking if you do – these are things which are old fashioned, but they still work.”
People are living longer and, by 2050, a quarter of those in the UK will be over 65, but Sir Chris argued it should not be accepted that these extra years will be spent in ill health.
Research shows that people become less active as they get older, with a third of 75 to 85-year-olds and 57 per cent of people aged 85 and over being physically inactive.
Publishing his annual report, Health in an Ageing Society, Sir Chris said smoking rates are dropping and alcohol intake is falling in some groups, but “obesity is going in the wrong direction”.
The report called on government action to include restricting the promotion of high fat, salt and sugar products and using the planning system “to restrict the concentration of hot food takeaways in an area”.
Elsewhere in the report, Sir Chris said older people suffer when homes, public buildings and towns are poorly planned.
He said “being an older person in many parts of the country is extremely difficult”, with houses currently “built for young families” rather than older people.
Sir Chris suggested art galleries and libraries could have grab rails or ramps to help people move around, while pavements and cycle lanes should be accessible with even surfaces “because the key thing people want is independence”.
As well as making it easy to exercise, the report said: “Reducing smoking, air pollution and exposure to environments that promote obesity are other examples where the State has a major role to play in delaying or preventing ill health and disability over a lifetime and into older age.”
The report also examined the areas where people live, showing that the “great majority” of people move out of cities and large towns before old age, shifting to coastal and semi-rural areas “often with relatively sparse services and transport links”.
As a result, “Manchester, Birmingham and London will age very slowly but areas such as Scarborough, North Norfolk or the south coast are going to age rapidly and predictably”.
The report added: “Homes for older people need to be located in places where they can easily and safely reach the everyday shops and services that they need, preferably by active transport (walking or cycling) to help maintain their physical health.
“Public and green spaces should be designed to meet the needs of older people, including those with sensory and physical impairments.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Age UK, called for politicians and policy makers “to get a grip”, adding: “Older people are isolated at home if the design of our communities mean they can’t safely go out.
“People end up falling and in the back of an ambulance if our built environment is full of trip hazards.”
In his report, Sir Chris also called to advance discussions about what should happen as people near the end of life.
He suggested too many people are given no choice when it comes to life-extending treatments when actually they may not feel it is in their best interests.
Sir Chris said that “extending life may or may not be right thing, and the key question on that should be ‘what does the patient want?’ And that question should be asked.
“Many people, for example, get rushed to hospital in the middle of the night simply because nobody knows what their wishes are.”