If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll know that I’m always going on about what it takes for us to stay as young as possible for as long as possible. You will be aware too that I invariably warn it’s going to involve effort, but I’m sure you have also picked up on my belief that the effort is worth it, because the alternative of becoming unfit in body and mind and succumbing to the chronic health conditions associated with mid to later life is pretty grim.

Last week, there was a rather serious report on UK’s older inhabitants from the chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, and though it focused on positive aims and what should be done to improve our lot, the inescapable fact is that the nation and its health service is becoming swamped by the problems of ageing men and women.

In the 2021 census, the figures for over 65s in this country was 11m, but by 2030, it’s predicted there will be almost 13m over-65s, which is some 22pc of the total population. And the harsh reality is that a sizeable proportion of these people are not super fit but suffering from at least one of the “ageing illnesses” such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.  

Whitty’s report is very thoughtful and focuses on the need to prioritise the quality of life rather than the length of it. In other words, his message is that our health span is more important than our lifespan. I agree. Do any of us want to live to be a hundred if we spend decades before that in pain and with limited mobility? I doubt it.

He also highlighted the special difficulties in rural and coastal areas – many of which we are keenly aware of in East Anglia – and wants there to be better planning in these communities so that pensioners can stay more active and independent.

In addition, he counselled the medical profession about the need for more all-round medical care and said that because of the emphasis on specialisation which has developed over the past 30 years, there are insufficient “general” doctors who understand the complexity of the illnesses their older patients tend to have.  

So, there’s much in the chief medical officer’s report to demonstrate that a great deal of thought is going into our future, and how things need to change.  

But I fear that a lot of these ideas – good though they undoubtedly are – will take years to implement. So, I return to the notion that we should be doing all we can to keep ourselves fit and that it is in our own interest – and that of the nation as a whole – to take more responsibility for our own health and do all we can to adopt the measures we’re constantly advised will give us a better chance of a healthy old age.

Let’s take just one issue, that of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Did you know that by the age of 70, 75pc of women and 65pc of men have high blood pressure? And did you also know that this can lead to kidney problems, stroke, heart disease and vascular dementia?

Of course, there are plenty of effective hypertensive drugs, but do we ever give significant thought to dealing with this problem by changing our lifestyle rather than popping a pill? There’s good advice on a variety of excellent websites telling us how to do this. And as Whitty points out in his report, far too many older folk are on far too many drugs, and need to ditch half of them in order to avoid damaging side-effects.

Now, I am not for one moment suggesting that readers stop taking their hypertensive medication. That is a decision for you to make with your own doctor. However, I do think that many of us could lower our blood pressure sufficiently to make having that conversation worthwhile.  

But how?   

Start with DASH. This stands for the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. It advocates eating more lean protein, fruit, vegetables and whole grain rice, pasta and bread. And Zoe.com, which is one of my favourite sources of reliable medical information, tells us that certain foods are particularly good at decreasing blood pressure – olive oil, beetroot juice and tomatoes, for example.

Other helpful tactics include reducing weight. Even a modest loss of a few pounds will begin that process. And for most individuals, other benefits swiftly become noticeable such as having more energy.    

Additionally, we can help ourselves by drinking alcohol sparingly, if at all, not smoking, and increasing our levels of exercise. Aim for 20 minutes a day and see what a difference it can make.

I genuinely hope Sir Chris Whitty’s report will result in better planning for health, social support, transport and infrastructure for us all. Unfortunately, we have little control over those things. We can though, to some extent, exercise control over our own health by adopting the sort of lifestyle changes that can improve our chances of living well for longer. It would be great if we all vowed to do that.