SAN PABLO.– Due to his size, thin and fibrous, at 77 years old he seems to heed his own advice to embrace physical activity to achieve a healthy old age and with a better quality of life. It is true that he looks about ten years younger, but it would not be convenient to tell him, because the answer could be brutal: “As if looking as old as one is a deficiency or a mistake.”
The Brazilian doctor Alexandre Kalache he feels pride in being, as he says, an older person or an old man. “Getting old is good, what is useless is early death,” says the former director of the Department of Aging and Life Cycle of the World Health Organization (WHO), a position he held between 1995 and 2008.
“Aging is the great social conquest of the last 100 years”, states today the president of the International Longevity Center of Brazil, in an interview with the region’s media, in which he participated THE NATION. And he justifies, in perfect Spanish: “In 1900, Germany had the highest life expectancy in the world, at 46 years. Today, there are 43 countries that reach more than 80. That is, in 2000, for example, no country – even the most impoverished in Africa – had an expectation as low as the highest of Germany in 1900. And that was only in a century.”
Hence, his pride: “I represent the longevity revolution because when i was born in brazil [en la ciudad de Río de Janeiro, en 1945], I had a life expectancy of 43 years, and now we are approaching 80″. Among the countries that reached this goal, in addition to Uruguay, Colombia and Costa Rica, it includes Argentina.
However, since the beginning of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic, as stated, reduced that life expectancy, by registering early deaths. “And they died because the vaccine was slow to arrive, because there were no adequate policies as a consequence of ageism, that is, age discrimination,” explains Kalache in a room of the imposing Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein from the exclusive Morumbi district of this city, where he participated as a speaker in the seventh edition of the Latin American Forum on Quality and Safety in Health, which took place last week. The meeting was organized by the Albert Einstein Israelite-Brazilian Charity Society, which invited THE NATIONalong with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
Old age, as it exposes, raises fears: “Throughout the centuries, there has always been the horror of growing old without knowing if one is going to have a roof, if one will have the treatment [médico] that the self is needed if it will be carelessly abandoned”.
Faced with this, Kalache bets that governments adopt policies to protect older adults. Something that he had already stated in 2002, when he was one of the promoters of the document “Active ageing: a political framework”, presented by the WHO.
– What are the challenges facing the countries of the region to create policies that accompany the longevity revolution?
-There are four axes. The first is health. Growing old without health will lead to a poor quality of life. And that will depend on personal effort, but also on appropriate policies so that you can access healthier and more accessible food, or do physical activity in a safe environment. Now, what if you live in a favela and you want to go for a walk if there are stray bullets or the sidewalks are potholed? The second axis is knowledge. We need lifelong learning policies, from childhood to old age. So older people can be productive. The third is related to the participation of this group. And the last one is that of protection, the security that the older adult will not be abandoned, that he will continue to be included and that he will receive care when he needs it.
Along these lines, Kalache warns: “There are millions of Latin Americans who are aging poorly and prematurely with diseases related to poor lifestyles. Policies need to be able to guarantee healthier, simpler and cheaper lifestyles.”
– What lifestyle should be followed to reach old age healthy?
-The most important intervention is physical activity, that is, not being sedentary, because with age you lose muscle mass and there is a risk of falls. Exercise also has a very important mental health component and it stimulates. It can maintain your mobility and your autonomy. In addition, it helps prevent various chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, various types of cancer and hypertension; as well as other problems that, although they do not kill, can worsen the quality of life, especially for women, such as musculoskeletal problems. Another key is feeding: control the white diet, which consists of the consumption of flour, sugar, salt and alcohol. You have to put more color on the plate: the more colorful it is, the more trace elements, proteins and vitamins it will have.
Another challenge faced by older adults is the accessibility. In fact, in 2007, given the growth of this age group in urbanized areas, Kalache promoted the concept of friendly cities with this population. “At that time, we realized that more people are going to age in urban areas that are not prepared for them. So, we did a study in 35 cities (Buenos Aires, Mexico, and Geneva, among others), which as a result highlighted aspects of urban life that make a difference: access to services, the quality of public space, the right to education, the right to work, citizenship, mobility and transportation. These are fundamental aspects for the younger population and that must be adapted for older adults, ”he indicates.
An example of this is adapting the entry and exit of all passengers to a group. That is to say, that it is equally easy to get on and off the unit also for a pregnant woman, an older adult or a person with a disability. “Everyone benefits. what we want is a more accessible and friendlier city with all ages, age friendly. Not only with the elderly. Today there are close to 3,000 cities that are following these guides,” she concludes.