By the time we turn 60, most of us will still have one third of our lives to live. How well we live these years will depend on our health. Are we agile and disease free, or dependent on medication and help?
Melbourne specialist geriatrician Dr Kate Gregorevic is fascinated by, and an expert in, the ageing process. So much so that the mother-of-three has written about the science of it in her first book Staying Alive (written at 5am over just six months—go Kate!)
A keen runner and mother of three who wraps sleep, nutrition, exercise, and cognitive and emotional health into a holistic approach to her own life, Kate has built her research and experience treating older adults into day-to-day strategies around how to live happier, healthier and longer.
Where others can equate ageing with being worthless to society, Kate has the opposite view. "It is just the most incredible gift to get that wisdom and perspective that comes at the end or after many decades of life," she told me on new #Perspectives podcast 'Staying Alive'.
"People in their eighties and nineties, they've lived. They have so much understanding of what is important. Don't get me wrong, physical things are really important aspects of health, but we also need to find a framework and find motivation.
"It's not so much saying to someone, 'Do your exercise,'" says Dr Kate. "Everyone kows exercise is good for them. It's saying, 'What's important to you?' Asking what's going to add value to each of them.
"And I can't prescribe that."
I loved our conversation, which ranged from a couple of my new obsessions—telomeres and gut bacteria with their own neuro-transmitters to name just a couple!—to many of my older ones including the potential for psychology to physically express itself, optimism, and the best way to deposit into your own 'health bank' now to get great returns later.
I also loved Staying Alive and was keen to deep dive with an expert into what she knows about ageing. (Kate doesn't like the longtime buzzword 'anti-ageing', be it in claims about nutrition or beauty products and treatments: "We're all getting older all the time. We age, and can't stop that.")
We can't, but we're all living much longer than we did. One statistic in Staying Alive intrigued me. In 1900, we died at the average age of 31 compared to 81 now in developed countries, and 71 across the board.
My interest in the topic of how to live well now to boost our chances of having satisfying older years was sparked when I was a teenager and was diagnosed with endometriosis.
It was my first introduction to an Australian health care system which may not allow as much as it should for prevention rather than cure. My diagnosis and years of treatment really woke me up to a system that was designed just to get cut it off, cut it out, drug it.
I actually had one doctor tell me once, ‘If we cut the nerves, you won't feel the pain as it kills you.’ I'm not saying that's the standard practice. But that was my experience. And it made me realise the medical system is very reactive.
It was a wake up call.
In the decades since, the one thing that helped my health most was dumping processed food and sugar 20 years ago. I was diagnosed with candida and depression, and I was prescribed antibiotics and anti-depressants—I was given four different scripts.