#107 7 Things You Must Do For Great Health at Age 90

June 9th, 2015 by

7 Things You Must Do For Great Health at Age 90

Odds are that you will be medically disabled by age 69 according to data from the World Health Organization.  As the current life expectancy is now 79 in the U.S., this means that you will likely spend the last 10 years of your life with chronic medical conditions, on lots of medications, and with many doctor visits.  Is this really how you want to spend your “golden years?”

Research shows that if you can do all 7 things discussed in this article, you will likely be able to do everything you now enjoy doing right up until your 90th birthday.  Don’t leave 21 high quality years “on the table.”  Read on to understand the science of how our bodies were genetically designed to function well until age 90.

Our Distorted Concept of Aging

Many people are afraid to live a long life.  Some even have the mistaken idea that the reason why they make poor lifestyle choices is because they don’t want to live very long.  What they don’t realize is that these poor lifestyle choices are much more likely to cause premature medical disabilities rather than a premature death.

Sadly, I often hear the following from patients.  “If I had known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”

The key message of this article is that you don’t have to “grow old” in the traditional sense of the word.  You can continue to do everything you now enjoy doing until age 90.  For most people, your genes will allow you to enjoy great health at age 90 if you are committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Men vs. Women, Disability and Longevity

In general, men become medically disabled and die several years younger than women.  The only exception seems to be “Sardinia’s Mysterious Male Methuselahs.” For some strange reason, the Sardinia men seem to outlive the women.

Despite these grim odds for men, there is one group that does surprisingly well in the U.S.  This one group of men that seem to thrive in the U.S. are male physicians.  What can we learn from these long lived male physicians that can help all of us to live to 90 without medical disabilities?

If you are a woman, even better, as your chances of hitting 90 in great health are even higher than men.  This is true even among U.S. physicians.

The Physician’s Study

The Physician’s Health Study was launched in 1982 at Harvard University to test the role of aspirin and beta-carotene in preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Now, 33 years later, we have learned far more than the health effects of aspirin and beta-carotene.

Surprisingly, many of these male physicians have lived healthy lives, doing everything they have always enjoyed, until their 90th birthday and beyond.  Indeed, researchers found that if these physicians did all of the things described in this article, most of them would still be alive at age 90.

I should point out that if physicians even missed just one of the following things, then they probably would not make it to age 90.  Even more striking is that most of these physicians, living to age 90, reported excellent health.  Below are the 7 things you must do for great health at age 90.

7 Things You Must Do For Great Health at Age 90

1. Don’t Smoke

Every cigarette smoked takes 11 minutes off your life.   This adds up to dying 10 years too early.  It also causes rapid aging and premature medical disability.  Indeed, for physicians to make it to age 90 with excellent health meant absolutely no smoking.

If you smoke it is never too late to change.  The sooner you can quit the sooner you can gain back these lost years of quality life.

2. Prevent or Reverse Diabetes

Diabetes is a tragic disease causing premature medical disability and death.  In one study, diabetes took away up to 9 years of life and caused people to become medically disabled 20 years earlier.

According to a study performed by my former classmate, Harvard researcher Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, 90% of diabetes is completely preventable.  Even if it is genetically impossible to reverse your diabetes, do everything possible to keep your hemoglobin A1C in the normal range or at least as close to the normal range as possible.

3. Keep Your Blood Pressure in Check

High blood pressure not only wears out your heart but also your arteries and other organs.  The goal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg.  Anything above this is prematurely aging the body.  Indeed, studies show that people with high blood pressure lose 5 years of high quality life to heart attacks and other heart problems.

As with diabetes, I have seen hundreds of my patients reverse their high blood pressure and get off of medications with an unwavering commitment to a healthy lifestyle.  To learn more about how to reverse high blood pressure without medications, please read this article I wrote.

4. Physically Active

Studies show that every hour spent sitting watching TV takes 22 minutes off your life.  This could be any form of sitting.

The physicians living to age 90 and beyond with excellent health, in the Physician’s Health Study, were physically active their entire lives.  At the cellular level, studies show that if we spend too much time sitting then we give up 10 years of life.

5. Maintain a Lean Body Weight

These physicians living to 90 with great health were not obese.  They were a lean group.  The average body mass index (BMI) of these physicians was 24.  A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight.  To determine your own BMI, click on this link.

Studies show that obesity will rob you of up to 9 years of life.  Like diabetes, it can cause you to become medically disabled 20 years before your time.

6. College Education

When reviewing the findings of the Physician’s Health Study, it is important to note that this was a very homogenous group.  They were all physicians.  Thus, we also have to understand what makes a physician a physician.

To begin with, to become a physician means you have to go to school for a long time.  Countless studies have shown that the more education you achieve the more likely you are to avoid medical disabilities and live a long life.

According to this 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people did not finish high school gave up 9 years of life.  Even those who may have attended college, but did not finish their degree, lost out on 5 years of life.

If you did not go to college, or did not finish your degree, it is never too late.  Most colleges offer night courses or online courses to help you get your degree.  Spending the time now to get your degree may also help you to avoid Alzheimer’s Disease later in life.

7. Calling in Life

Many physicians I know feel that being a physician is their calling in life.  There is no separation between work and personal life.  As a physician, you are driven by your desire to help other people.  This calling in life, or sense of purpose, has been shown to improve health and longevity.

Based on my calculations of studies done, those without a strong sense of purpose give up 4 years of life.  People without a perceived calling in life also develop Alzheimer’s Disease at a young age.

If you don’t yet have a purpose or mission driving your life, now is the time for you to explore why you are on this Earth.  What legacy do you want to leave?

Surprising Factors Not Associated with Health and Longevity

Interestingly, there were certain factors not associated with health and longevity in physicians.  The following were not shown to improve the health and longevity of physicians in the Physician’s Health Study:

1. Social connection

2. Wine consumption

3. Cholesterol numbers

Of these three, the most surprising to me was that social connection was not a predictor of health and longevity in physicians.  Perhaps this is because, by nature, physicians tend to feel very needed and connected to their communities.  For example, every week I go to church, at least several neighbors will come up to me asking for help regarding a medical situation.

Also of interest was that as you get older cholesterol numbers don’t seem to matter as much.  Other studies have shown similar findings.  One other factor that should be considered is that most of these physicians were in good health when they first enrolled in the Physician’s Health Study in 1992.

It Is Not Just Physicians Who Make It To 90

You don’t have to be a physician to enjoy great health at age 90.  With strict adherence to a healthy lifestyle, studies show that most Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, and Okinawans can also live to age 90.

Making It Work For You

The key message of the Physician’s Health Study is that aging does not need to mean medical disabilities, lots of medications, and frequent visits to the doctor.  You can continue to enjoy excellent health to age 90 and possibly beyond.

Are unhealthy lifestyle choices worth becoming medically disabled 20 years younger?

#084 How to End Loneliness with These 7 Strategies

March 13th, 2015 by

How to End Loneliness with These 7 Strategies

Would you believe me if I told you that loneliness and social isolation was more dangerous to your health than smoking or even being an alcoholic?    How about twice as dangerous as being obese?

Do you ever feel alone in a room full of people you don’t know?  I know I often feel this way.

Over the last 20 years the number of people in America who said they have no one to talk to has tripled!  Is it the internet, our cell phones, or all of the demands that are placed on us that are causing us to feel more lonely and become more socially isolated?

Social Isolation

Why are we becoming more socially isolated?  Facebook was supposed to keep us in touch with friends and family, right?

This is something I see everyday in my cardiology practice.  Increasing job stress, family responsibilities, and our cell phones are making our lives more unmanageable.  The very technology that was supposed to make it easier for us to connect with others is paradoxically making us more socially isolated.

While I am fortunate to have a very close family, I must admit that with the many demands that I face it is hard for me to invest enough time in developing close friendships.  Do you have the same challenges?  Is this putting our health at risk?

Why Do Asians Live Longer?

According to the World Health Organization, 3 of the top 4 countries with the longest lifespan are all in Asia (Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong).  What is it that allows Asians to live so much longer than the U.S. and the rest of the world?

Since my immersion in the Asian culture at the age of 19 as part of my volunteer church service within the New York City Chinese immigrant community, I have been fascinated with the very close social support system of Chinese families.

Multiple generations all live under the same roof.  Each generation contributes to the other generations in the home.  Everyone is needed and everyone has an important role to play.  No one is isolated and no one is put “out to pasture.”  This cultural approach is completely opposite our very independent spirit in the U.S.

We saw this same social support system in China’s Longevity Village.  In fact, a study of China’s centenarians in Bama, County where the Longevity Village is located, showed that 74% of the centenarians lived under the same roof with 4 or 5 generations!

Could this close family support system be the secret to their longevity?  Or is it the fact that very few people live alone in Asia?

Friends and Family Are the #1 Longevity Factor

In one of the biggest studies ever done to explore the role of friends and family on longevity, Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University (BYU), published a study of 308,849 people.  In this study she found that of all the common longevity factors, such as exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, or not smoking, that being socially connected was the most important.  Indeed, her study showed that people who were socially connected lived 50% longer!

With regards to mortality, here are the key findings of this study:

1. Social isolation is more dangerous than smoking 15 cigarettes a day

2. Social isolation is more dangerous than becoming an alcoholic

3. Social isolation is twice as dangerous as obesity

As a cardiologist, these data surprised me.  Is loneliness really more dangerous than smoking? In my cardiology training at Stanford University, I was taught that heart disease and longevity had more to do with diet, lifestyle, smoking status, and genetics than not having enough friends and close family members.

If these data are really true, why is it that so little is mentioned about the important role of friends and family members on the American Heart Association’s website?  I had to find out more…

A Behind the Scene Look at the Loneliness and Longevity Study

To get a better understanding of the implications of this study, I was able to catch up this week with the lead researcher, BYU’s Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, who is currently living in the Netherlands on a sabbatical research assignment.

I asked Julianne how she even became interested in this subject.  She shared with me that she has been interested in the role of friendships and family relationships to cardiovascular health and longevity for the last 10-15 years.  She told me that she always knew there was a link but even she was surprised that relationships have twice the impact on longevity as obesity and even carry more weight than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.

Her study involved pooling all of the data from 148 previous studies on the subject to draw an even stronger statistical correlation.  To help explain the results of this study, she has published additional research showing that relationships can influence our blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels.

While having strong relationships can certainly help us to eat better, exercise more, or even go to the doctor’s office regularly, Julianne shared with me that these factors were not even included in the results of her study.  In other words, the longevity benefits of relationships go beyond just trying to live healthier to be around longer for your family and friends.

Is it Social Isolation or Perceived Loneliness that Increases Risk?

As part of my conversation with Julianne we touched on the topic of whether it is actually loneliness or just perceived loneliness that impacts our lifespan.  This topic lead nicely into her most recent research which you may have seen in the news recently.

Once again, this was another large meta-analysis study which included 70 independent studies of 3,407,134 people followed for an average of 7 years.  Here are the key findings of Julianne’s even larger study:

1. People who reported feeling lonely were 26% more likely to die

2. Socially isolated people had a 29% increased mortality

3. People who live alone were were 32% more likely to die

As you can see from this data that both living alone and the subjective feeling of loneliness were both powerful risk factors for an early death in this study.  Julianne shared with me that when both were present this was a particularly dangerous sign.

At our very core, we are programmed to be socially connected.  When we live disconnected lives it impacts our hearts and our health.  Our very survival depends on our ability to meaningfully connect with others.

How to End Loneliness with These 7 Strategies

Based on our work in China’s Longevity Village and from landmark studies, like Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad’s work discussed in this article, I now encourage my cardiac patients to spend more time with friends and family.  The healing that comes from close relationships likely offers more long-term benefits than any medications or procedures I can offer.

Social isolation and perceived loneliness, can both be difficult to overcome.  As I am, by nature, an introvert I have had these same struggles as well.  Let me share with you 7 strategies that I have found helpful.

1. Reach Out to Others

I realize that when you feel lonely the natural tendency is to expect others to reach out to you.  The important thing to remember is that studies show that 90% of people report feeling shy or lonely as well.

In reality they are hoping that you will reach out to them as they are feeling the same way.  Break the ice and be the one who reaches out first.  Be the person to talk to the person sitting next to you at the school function, church meeting, or the sporting event.

2. Focus on the Needs and Feelings of Others

Sometimes when people are feeling lonely they have too much bottled up inside of them. When they then do get the chance to talk with others they dominate the conversation.

My grandmother was this way at the end of her life when she was more socially isolated.  When I regularly reached out to her it was hard for me to share my feelings as she needed to talk.  I knew she was lonely and would let her talk. This is something that I often see with my lonely patients as well.

If we are feeling lonely inside it is critical to remember to also be interested in the needs and feelings of others when we have opportunities to connect.  If you want to end loneliness then others need to feel that you really care about them.  Give others the chance to share their feelings.

If they feel you care they will love you back.

3. Reconnect with Old Friends

It is always easier to reconnect with an old friend than to find a new friend.  With the powers of the internet, nearly every old friend can be found.

As I have reached out to old high school friends, medical school classmates, and extended family members, I am always amazed at how excited they are to be reconnected. Life is too short to live without our old friends!

I challenge you to connect with one old friend this week.

4. Volunteer

Unfortunately, only 27% of Americans take advantage of all the health benefits that come with volunteering.  Volunteers, by definition, are more socially connected in ways that really matter.  Perhaps this is why studies show that volunteers are happier, healthier, and even live 22% longer!

I have found that my volunteer opportunities keep me connected to people I would never have connected with otherwise.  Volunteering can take on many different forms.  It could be at your church or even your local hospital or elementary school.  There is so much you can contribute!

5. Get a Dog

Many studies have shown that having a pet, especially a dog or a cat, can help to prevent heart disease and increase your lifespan.  While there are many possible explanations for these benefits, one of the most important, and least understood, is the benefit of companionship that comes with an animal.

Perhaps this is why the American Heart Association recently published a position statement recommending pets, especially dogs as the data are strongest with dogs, as a way to prevent heart disease.

Believe or not, dogs will actually help you to connect with more people.  Everyone loves a friendly dog.  Dog owners also tend to congregate at parks and schools where dogs can be exercised.

6. Find People Like You

While the internet, Facebook, and Twitter can paradoxically make us feel more alone, these technologies do have the capability of helping us to identify more people like ourselves.  With a simple search you can instantly find thousands of people just like you.

Once you identify these people look for opportunities to meet in person.  If you are that person who loves to quilt or scrapbook you may be amazed to find that there just may be a group meeting in your neighborhood!

7. Don’t Forget Your Family

Of all the strategies listed, this is probably the most important. Our families are key to our happiness and our health.  This is something that they understand in Asia and many other areas of the world.

While we don’t have to live as multigenerational families under the same roof, we do need to stay in touch with our family.  I realize that sometimes it can be hard with our busy lives but from a larger perspective our lives really do depend on it!

What have you found that works to prevent feeling lonely?