Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Do you even want to live to 90?
Most people think that living to 90 means living in a nursing home. Would you want to live to 90 if you were in great health and could do everything you wanted to do? In this article, I’m going to share the seven things you must do for great health at 90 and beyond.
Will you live to 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 can escape this fate. 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 of 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 and enjoy great health at 90. For most people, your genes allow you to enjoy great health at 90 if you are committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Men vs. Women and Longevity
In general, men get sick and die much younger than women. This is why almost every centenarian population on this planet is mostly made up of women. So why are men cursed to die early?
This is a question that has baffled scientists for years. Of the many theories out there, the most likely are that women tend to be more health conscientious and are more connected socially.
Is there any hope for men to live longer? The one exception to the female centenarian rule seems to be the “Sardinian men.”
Surprisingly, on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean, most of the centenarians are men. The healthy, low-stress, agrarian lifestyle allows the Sardinian mean to easily make it to 100.
But what about in the U.S.? Do men stand a chance of great health at 90?
Despite the grim odds for men, there is one group that does remarkably well in the U.S. This one group of men that seem to thrive are male physicians. What can we learn from these long lived male physicians that can help all of us enjoy great health at 90?
Of course, if you are a woman then your chances of great health at 90 are even better if you follow the same playbook I am going to share…
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, 36 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 seven things described in this article, most of them had great health at 90.
I should point out that if a male physician even missed just one of the following things, then they probably wouldn’t make it to 90. Below are the 7 things you must do for great health at 90.
7 Things You Must Do For Great Health at 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.
If breathing tobacco air isn’t a problem for you, then make sure air pollution levels are as low as possible. While it is often impossible to do much to impact the air in your city, you can at least get a HEPA filter to help with your indoor air. This is what we have done in our home.
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.
The best thing I have seen in my practice to normalize hemoglobin A1C levels it to keep your weight in the normal range and eliminate all sugar and flour of any kind from your diet.
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 for longevity is 110/70 mmHg. Anything above 110/70 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 with great health at 90 were definitely physically active. Exercise was a daily habit for them. At the cellular level, studies show that if we spend too much time sitting then we give up 10 years of life.
A recently published study showed that being very physically fit can decrease your risk of dementia by 88%! This study highlights the importance of physical fitness for great health at 90.
5. Maintain a Lean Body Weight
These physicians with great health at 90 were not overweight. 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 carrying around extra weight 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
Most physicians I know feel that being a physician is their calling in life. There is no separation between work and personal life. It is all one 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 are also at increased risk of developing 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? What gets you out of bed each morning?
Surprising Factors Not Associated with Longevity in this Study
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
Social Connectivity and Longevity
Of these, the most surprising to me was that social connection was not a predictor of health and longevity in physicians. This finding goes against other studies.
My guess is that physicians really are socially connected and that these researchers just didn’t ask the right questions. For example, every time I go to church or a social event, at least several neighbors come up to me asking for medical advice. As neighbors reach out to me in this way I feel much more socially connected as a naturally introverted person.
If you aren’t a physician all is not lost. Reach out to others. Don’t worry if you feel shy or awkward as the rest of the world also feels shy and awkward. Others will be grateful that you have reached out.
Cholesterol, Alcohol, and Longevity
Also of interest in this study was that as you get older cholesterol numbers don’t seem to matter as much. While this may seem odd, many other studies have also come to the same conclusion.
Lastly, alcohol and longevity is a question that comes up all the time when I give lectures on our book, The Longevity Plan. While earlier studies reported that alcohol may help to prevent heart disease and promote longevity, more recent studies report that these earlier studies may have been flawed.
The reason for this is that early studies of alcohol and longevity failed to account for the abstainer bias. In other words, people who refrain from alcohol may have other health conditions that don’t allow them to drink. When you account for the abstainer bias then any protective effect from alcohol goes away.
It Isn’t Just Physicians Who Make It To 90
You don’t have to be a physician to enjoy great health at 90. With strict adherence to a healthy lifestyle, studies show that most Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, and Okinawans also enjoy great health at 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.
Your genes are programmed to allow for great health at 90. Unless bad luck strikes, healthy decisions now means great health at 90.
Are unhealthy lifestyle choices worth becoming medically disabled 20 years younger?
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.