Professor Sir Chris Whitty has recommended "old-fashioned" methods for the ageing population to remain healthy - insisting falling sick is not "inevitable".

The chief medical officer's annual report, Health In An Ageing Society, said it is possible to delay the point at which people fall ill.

The report, published on Friday, said that by 2050, a quarter of people in the UK will be over 65.

But Sir Chris argues that it should not be accepted that becoming older comes with poor health.

"While diseases, long-term conditions and disabilities become more common and accumulate as we become older, they are far from inevitable - even in later years," he said.

He urged people to rely on methods known to work. "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."

Maintaining exercise for as long as possible is known to have a "huge positive effect on both physical and mental health in old age," Sir Chris said.

Consuming plenty of fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of conditions predominantly seen in older adults, including high blood pressure, chronic heart disease and stroke, and slows the risk of diabetes and cancer.

He pointed to rising rates of obesity in England - where 73% of adults aged 65 to 74 are overweight or obese.

The government has a "major role to play in delaying or preventing ill health and disability over a lifetime and into older age" by reducing smoking, air pollution and exposure to environments that promote obesity, Sir Chris said.

Ministers could take action, he said, by restricting the promotion of food containing high fat, sugar and salt - and even restrict the concentration of hot food takeaways in certain areas.

Sir Chris said: "Given current rates of childhood obesity, and the fact that those who live with overweight or obesity as children are likely to continue living with overweight or obesity into adulthood, we can expect more older people to live with overweight and associated health conditions well into the future.

"The prevention of excess weight gain and the promotion of healthy diets early on in life is therefore critical for maintaining good population health."

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"Delaying disease to the greatest possible extent, to delay the period of disability in older age, should be the aim of public health and medicine," Sir Chris added.

"Science is continuously developing new tools to help do this, but we are often extremely poor at maximising the use of the tools we have.

"The longer people live with risk factors such as hypertension or high cholesterol, the earlier the start of their disabilities will be."

Where are people likely to age faster?

Sir Chris expressed concerns about the "great majority" of people who move away from towns and cities to rural and coastal areas, often with "relatively sparse services and transport links".

"People living in London, Manchester and Birmingham will age very slowly", according to the report, while residents of areas such as Scarborough, north Norfolk or the south coast "are going to age rapidly and predictably".

"Providing services and environments suitable for older adults is an absolute priority if we wish to maximise the period all older citizens have in independence.

"The provision of health and social care also needs to be concentrated in these areas."

"Many of these areas are often beautiful and welcoming, but underserved in health care, with less accessible transport links and insufficient infrastructure designed for older adults, including housing.

"People who have moved to these new areas in later life often do not have the social support networks those born and bred locally may have."

Sir Chris concluded that people spending "less time living with ill health is entirely realistic".

Improving older people's quality of life while reducing the pressure on health and social care systems "should be a major aim of policy and medical practice", he said.

"Almost everyone reading this report will know older adults and will grow old themselves.

"Maximising the health, and therefore the life chances, of older adults should be seen as a major national priority, and one where we can make very significant progress often with relatively straightforward interventions."

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2023-11-10T12:15:09Z dg43tfdfdgfd