By Kathy Sykes
For the first time ever, the World Health Organization (WHO) has dedicated a special day to Healthy Aging. This is cause to celebrate—for me, for my father, a long-time advocate for older adults, and for all of us who strive to age well and in good health.
I do not remember when I first learned about the WHO definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” but I do recall feeling this was already part of my DNA.
My Swedish grandfather grew pretty much all that was needed for a healthy and nutritious meal right in his backyard. Our meals were from garden to plate. We loved helping him pick the red raspberries and apples, dig for potatoes and harvest the herbs—ingredients of healthy meals. No pesticides were applied; instead we cut off sections that bugs beat us to.
Getting in the car was more of a luxury (and that was before we knew about air pollution). We lived in a neighborhood where everything we needed was within a few blocks. The school, and later the University, the local grocery store, the park and zoo, the pharmacy, the dentist and doctor, and even the laboratory where my mother worked, were within walking distance, so she chose to come home each day for lunch and join my brother and sister. A closely-knit neighborhood meant there were eyes on the street where we played until it was time for dinner or bed.
We had it all. The good news is that as I have gotten older, not much has changed, with the exception of an outdoor garden. The social determinants of health are needed throughout life and working to maximize healthy environments is why I work at EPA.
About the author: Since 1998, Kathy Sykes has been working for the US EPA on aging, health and environmental policy. She launched the Rachel Carson Contest in 2007 and the Building Healthy Communities for Active Aging award program 2006. She recently joined the Office of Research and Development as the Senior Advisor for Aging and Sustainability and serves as one of the Agency’s representatives to the National Prevention Council headed by the Surgeon General. She is also working on the Green Heart campaign to raise awareness of air pollution and its health effects on cardiovascular disease among health professionals and middle-aged and older women.