Chronic Disease, Physical Strength and Old Age (Family)

By Pamela D Wilson CSA, CG, MS, BS/BA

 How many of you remember Jack LaLanne, an early pioneer of good health and exercise? Jack is quoted as saying:

“Life is survival of the fittest. How many healthy people do you know? How many happy people do you know?  Think about it. People work at dying, they don’t work at living. You’ve got to exercise. Your health account, your bank account, they’re the same thing.” (Wikipedia)

Jack LaLanne lived to the age of 96 and established one of the first health and fitness clubs in the United States in 1936. During his life he endlessly advocated for good nutrition and exercise as the foundation of good health.

If Jack LaLanne can be healthy, why can’t we? Why are so many of our older adults physically disabled?

Aging is associated with a loss of muscle mass and strength and eventual functional decline; limiting physical activity in old age results in increased risk of falls, hospitalizations, dependency, disability, frailty and mortality. (Legrand, D., Vaes, B., Mathei, C., Adriaensen, W., Pottelbergh, G., & Degryse, M., 2014)

Knowing that the personal and financial costs of illness are significant, why don’t we as individuals and as professional caregivers take more action on behalf of ourselves and in educating the individuals we serve? Have we become lazy, disinterested and in denial or are we truly uninformed?

More than half of Americans suffer from one or more chronic diseases: cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, pulmonary conditions and mental disorders.  Many of these diseases are preventable. It’s no wonder healthcare costs continue to rise in the United States. Expenditures to treat these seven selected diseases totaled $277 billion for Americans living in their homes in 2003. (DeVol &  Bedroussian, 2007).

On the other side of this equation are individuals in the workforce. Chronically ill workers take sick days or they show up for work hoping to avoid lost wages and perform well below expectations. Others take time off to care for chronically ill loved ones. Productivity in corporations employing the chronically ill suffers and results in declines for the overall economy.

While we see treatment advances that support longevity, healthcare is treating more individuals with increasing numbers of chronic disease.  Differences in lifestyle are the main predictors of healthy versus sick individuals. Providing access to healthcare for all Americans is admirable act but must be balanced with designing prevention and intervention strategies among children of all ages so that we arrive at a nation of healthier adults.

The divide between personal responsibility and taking prescription drugs to solve problems after diagnosis is significant. Somehow, we must begin to find a balance and to embrace the wisdom of Jack LaLanne, “People work at dying. They don’t work at living.” Wouldn’t you rather live and be healthy rather than die from self-imposed disability and frailty?

Jack LaLanne died at the age of 96 from pneumonia. He was sick for a week prior to his death and refused to go to the doctor. Reports indicate that he completed his exercise routine the day of his death. (Wikipedia),



DeVol, R and Bedroussian, A. An unhealthy America: the economic burden of chronic disease. The Milken Institute, October 2007.

LaLanne, Jack.

LaLanne, Jack.

Legrand, S., Vaes, B., Mathei, C., Adriaensen, W., Pottelbergh, G., and D. J. Muscle strength and physical performance as predictors of mortality, hospitalization and disability in the oldest old. J Am Geriatr Soc 62:1030-1038, 2014. Doi: 10:1111/jgs.12840.

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©2014 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.

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