People often ask me, what’s my secret to a long and healthy life? This week, I start my 100th trip around the sun. So I must acknowledge that Lady Luck has been on my side. But it’s not just good luck, or good genes.
As a medical doctor, I learned early that the best way to stay healthy is to avoid getting sick. Doctors can occasionally work miracles. But these are rare, and you should not count on them as a strategy for a long and healthy life.
Your physical body is your only vehicle on this journey of life. It’s been said, “If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?”
So take this to heart. Rule #1 for good health and longevity is to follow a sound lifestyle starting early in life. And Rule #2 is, never forget rule #1.
Even so, problems can creep up.
Over many years now, I’ve told readers to be wary of pharmaceutical drugs. When I suffered a heart attack at 74-years of age, I chose a high dose vitamin C regimen to combat build up of plaque in coronary arteries. Twenty-five years later, my ticker and cardiovascular system are still going.
Doctors advised me to take statins. They said I wouldn’t live 5 years without them.
But I prefer to focus on the fundamentals, not to treat the symptoms. So here are a sample of the common-sense ingredients for good health:
- Get regular exercise including aerobic and strength training to maintain physical and mental health.
- Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid processed foods, sugar, salt, and excess alcohol.
- Manage stress using techniques that ease your mind, whether it be meditation and mindfulness, a workout, or a favourite comedy show.
- Sleep well, enabling the body and mind to rest and recharge.
- Schedule regular medical check-ups, especially to get access to screening tests that help identify and treat heath issues early on.
I have expressed frustration at times when people fail to do these simple things to protect their health. But I’ve also acknowledged that changing behaviours can be difficult.
So I’ve argued that people should build simple and regular habits that promote good health. One of them is stepping on the bathroom scale everyday. It never lies.
On matters of another scale, it confounds me greatly that humankind can be so cruel and misguided. War, pollution, and poverty are among the features of our social landscape that will condemn the chances of many people to reach a healthy old age. But I don’t know how to stop the madness.
In light of it all, there’s little chance of a healthy, long life if you are not happy. Enjoyable social connections with family and friends are undervalued among the determinants of health. The effects of laughter on physical and mental health haven’t been studied enough. But a life of laughter is good practice for old age, when for all its benefits, you also need coping mechanisms – and there is none better than a good laugh.
As I journey for my 100th trip around the sun, I would like to thank all my readers for your birthday greetings and especially for the feedback regarding how this column has occasionally been helpful to you. I always aim to write in a way that is both informative and thought-provoking. And I am not done yet!