By Richard P. Holm
How to Live Long
By Richard P. Holm, MD
A college friend of mine recently had a heart attack and I found myself in an email conversation with my buddies, talking about his condition and reflecting about our own wellness. I recently read that only 20% of our potential lifespan is determined by genetics. This then begs the question: what can each of us do to improve our longevity and protect ourselves from my friend’s fate?
Preventive medications and supplements have been widely advertised by the pharmaceutical and supplement industry, but unfortunately are at best minimally helpful in protecting people from vascular disease. Rather than taking pills, making simple life-style changes can be considerably more effective. This starts with realizing the huge benefits that can come from something as simple as a daily walk. Walking 12 blocks (one mile) a day can be the goal, and if this is out of your range, start slowly and build. Even a little is good. A recent study found that people who walked three miles a day (or ran 45 minutes three times per week) lowered their risk of death by over 30%. The greatest benefit to their health, however, came with that first mile. Side effects of daily walking include increased strength and energy, strong bones, improved mood, better balance, and superior sleep.
There is a lot of talk about treating obesity, but studies show that the best weight loss programs usually fail after five years. Therefore, I never encourage people to have weight loss as their goal. Solid science shows a lower calorie diet (20-30% less than usual) and emphasizing beans and vegetables, will enhance longevity, even without weight loss. In general, a person who is heavy, but is also strong and physically fit, has a life expectancy like a thin person.
Longevity also seems to be improved in those who are well connected to friends and family. The same goes for those who nap daily and in those who have a religious or spiritual center. Physician stress studies have also shown that people with a creative outlet do better. There is also scientific data to show that those who drink one or two glasses of wine daily, and not to excess, live significantly longer.
Of course, bad things can happen to people who are doing everything right. However, it’s hard to beat a day that includes taking a brisk walk, making something creative, eating balanced smaller meals, taking an afternoon nap, enjoying a glass of wine with a friend, and then saying a prayer of thanks before bed. The goal shouldn’t necessarily be to live long, but to live well.