Add years to your life

I want to talk about ways that can add 10 years – or more – to your life expectancy. Not just any years, active years – physically and mentally productive ones.

But before you light an extra candle for me, I have a confession to make.  

I like numbers.

Science is about hard, reproducible numbers. Yet in medicine, our numbers come from studies that are based on 5 million people – or 25. Some data, like the benefit of aspirin after heart attacks, measles and polio vaccines, and eating your greens, are Category-5-hurricane proof; others, less so.

And the numbers present the “average Joe/Jane,” which means half of the population will do better than predicted; and the other half, worse. While we can’t predict exactly what would happen to you, we can come close.

Let’s talk about what we know about longevity.

When it comes to living past age 85, genetic composition contributes "less than one-third,” Dr. Thomas Perls, an aging expert said. “The vast majority of variation … is due to our health behaviors.”

Following that, here are two things you (or your loved ones) need to consider seriously.

First, quit smoking.

An interesting study had followed 34,439 British doctors for 50 years starting 1951. It showed quitting smoking by age 30 increased mean life expectancy by 10 years. Quitting by 65, about three years.

Some health benefits are immediate. Hours after stopping smoking, heart rate and blood pressure improve. In months, breathing improves. In a year, your heart attack risk is halved.  

It’s not too late.

Second, exercise.

Leisure-time physical activities can give you almost five years, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.

The more the better?

Likely yes. Currently we recommend 1.25 hours of intense activities (jogging, swimming) or 2.5 hours of moderate activities (walking, mowing grass) per week. Doing more may be better. But a study suggests that if you exercise more than five times the recommended amount, there may be a ceiling on benefits. But we can’t see much harm either for those who do way more than that.

Can I jog 75 minutes on Saturday morning – and be done?

Yes. In a recent British health survey, “Weekend Warriors,” those who exercise one to two sessions per week, reap similar health benefits as those who exercise regularly. Those with a history of heart disease or cancer do very well, too.

While I have numbers to support quitting smoking and exercise, other health behaviors work, like getting enough sleep, managing stress, eating less red/processed meat, etc. Others, like last month’s headline “Coffee Drinkers Live Longer,” need some digging. I hope it works out; I can’t live without coffee.

Also, there are Eileen’s grandmothers.

Eileen, my swimming buddy, told me her grandmothers lived to 102 and 103. Good till their last days.

“What were they like?” I asked.

"Oh, one had a belly. They fried everything in lard.” She paused. “They were sociable, and always moving. They lifted sofas to vacuum.”

As much as I never want to find out what’s under my sofa (or behind the fridge), it’s time to change.

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Volume 10, Issue 16, Posted 8:50 AM, 08.21.2018