When “Star Trek’s” Mr. Spock said, “Live long and prosper,” he could have been telling 21st-century folks to start taking advantage of the longevity revolution that was sweeping over them — one that promised a longer life than their grandparents could have imagined, but did not guarantee they would prosper, either in good health or overall quality of life. That, the logical Vulcan would have pointed out, depends on wise choices.
But there are some basic guidelines that will keep your brain sharp, your muscles and bones strong, and your blood flowing through open, flexible veins so that you can thrive.
The paradox of promise and peril
As medical science defeats ever more diseases, even people who become seriously ill are living longer and longer. Yet in some countries (like our U.S. of A.) a corrupted food supply, sedentary lifestyle, the obesity and diabetes epidemics and a surge in deaths from illicit drug use, suicide and gun violence are shortening lives. Two competing forces are at work.
The longevity boom
In 1800, children had a 34 to 40 percent chance of dying before age 10, and some researchers say that if kids made it to age 20, they could expect to live only another 20 years. But by 1929, life expectancy for newborns had increased to 57.1 years, and by 2014 it hit 78.8 years. And the number of folks living to be 100 is skyrocketing. In 2000, there were 50,281 centenarians, and in 2014 there were 72,197; a 44 percent increase.
The life-shortening risk factors
In 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics revealed that death rates in the U.S. rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems, unintentional injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide). Life expectancy declined for the first time in over 20 years.
Thirty percent of American adults are obese, and obesity shortens your life by eight years, while heart disease reduces longevity for about 610,000 Americans annually. A recent study found that 17 years post-heart attack, the survival rate for white men was just 8.3 percent (first heart attack at age 66), while the rate for white women (first heart attack at 70) was 6.7 percent; survival rates for African-American men and women were 5.4 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively.
Eighty to 90 percent of chronic disease in the U.S. is preventable these days, so, the solution …
1. Eat a plant-based diet — and know when to get the nutrients you need. In addition to making sure you get up to nine servings of fresh fruits and veggies daily, think about when you need more unprocessed carbs, including 100 percent whole grains (before you work out or heading into a test or intense job); when protein will best fuel your mind and body (post-exercise, to build muscle); and when you need hydration (all day — and make it water, tea and black coffee; skip drinks with added sugars). Keep animal protein, if you eat it, as a side dish and no red or processed meats.
2. Move often. While it’s essential to get 30-plus minutes of added physical activity daily and two to three strength-building workouts a week, it’s as important to move as often as you can; take a break from sitting by any means possible.
3. Sleep well — for seven to eight hours nightly in the dark and quiet.
4. Make time for friends, family and good works to calm your mind, lower your blood pressure and open your heart.
5. See your doctor regularly for recommended screenings (mammograms, colonoscopies, blood glucose checks, etc.). You’ll spot potential problems that you can short-circuit. Then you’ll live long and prosper!
Tune into Dr. Mike’s new book, out March 2019, “What to Eat When: The Secret Science of Eating for Success,” for in-depth info on the role of well-timed nutrition in longevity.
The You Docs’ column runs in Wednesday’s Extra.