Every time we turn on the TV or pick up a magazine, I’m told to do this or don’t do that and, if I follow the guidance, it will decrease my risk of some horrible disease by 17% or 29%.
If I added up all the reductions in risk I would live to be 143. Kind of puts a whole new spin on the Social Security solvency issue.
At the risk of ruffling a few feathers, I would like to suggest some order to the risk hierarchy. A logical starting place: if you plan to live a long time, and are actually doing something to facilitate it, start here:
- Stop Smoking (or don’t start). This is the most researched and has absolute consensus in the medical community. Smoking cuts 5 or 10 years off your life. If you do only one thing to live longer, this is the one.
- Diet – I am reserving the No. 2 slot for what you eat, not how much you eat. If you want to live a long time, eat grains, fruits and vegetables and avoid meats of all kinds, especially red meat. This is also very well researched and causes a dramatic decrease in Cancer and Heart Disease – the No. 1 and No. 2 killers in this country. Your life expectancy will increase by 5 or more years from this.
- Exercise every day. 20 minutes of some kind of exercise is the thing that will get you the most life for your time investment. Your life will be a few years longer, and perhaps more importantly, you will be able to do more and feel better. The cancer and heart disease rates are lower in exercisers.
- Treat lifestyle disease. We are talking hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. Some of these are a result of excessive living, some just genetic roulette – blame your parents. Treating these illnesses almost completely neutralizes the dramatic decrease in lifespan they can cause. Treating these diseases can easily add a decade to you life.
- Weight Control. The other shoe. Not what you eat, but how much. Excessive body weight contributes to hypertension, heart disease and cancer. This can easily take a decade off your life, and make the rest of it pretty unhappy.
- Seat Belts. Protect yourself from an untimely death in a motor vehicle. There are about 40,000 deaths per year in the United States from motor vehicle accidents. Seat belts have added a bunch more years than vitamin C and the rest of the alphabet combined.
- Deal with your depression. Depression measurably shortens life, but makes it feel way too long. The solution can be regular exercise, good friends or medications. The important thing is to do something about it. Living a long life takes the will to live – that means treat the depression.
- Stay Married or Get Married. Married people have a measurably lower mortality rate then unmarried people. Sounds curious, but this is a well researched and reproducible fact. The subtype is a good marriage helps you live longer. Bad marriages do not. Make sure you know the difference (hint – if your spouse is your closest friend, you have a good one).
- Sleep well. Insomnia and poor sleeping contribute to accidents, cardiovascular disease and poor health. Sleep apnea is one treatable culprit and can add years to your life.
- Meditation or yoga. Plenty of evidence that regular meditation or yoga decreases blood pressure, makes the blood less sticky (few stroked and heart attacks from clogs) and increases the wellness chemicals in your brain. This has a measurable increase on your lifespan.
So start at number 1 and go as far down the list as you can.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.