There is no shortage of articles and books about how to extend your health span. Health span means not just living longer but living better. The tips and hints at the secrets of how to achieve this line up in several categories.
AARP just published an exhausting (not exhaustive list) in their current Bulletin issue. It is a mix of solid tried and true medical advice regarding how increased physical activity can ward off diseases. Dietary dos and don’ts are always part of the live well longer part; eat fruits, eat fiber, eat nuts and seeds. Try and keep stress to a minimum, financial stress in particular. Watch out for immune stress, take in the natural world even if you can’t take a bath in the woods Japanese style. By item 100 I wanted to add item 101; beware of lists that stress you out by the enormity of their expectations for your control over your life. Yes, getting a library card is simple, and so is getting a flu shot. Other items not so much.
In Dean Ornish’s and his wife’s new book Undo It!, there is a lot of the new vocabulary about aging science regarding telomeres, oxidative stress. Their big revelation is:
The radical underlying theory is that for the vast majority of chronic diseases in our 40 years of research, we didn’t find that it was one set of lifestyle changes for reversing heart disease and a different diet and lifestyle program for diabetes or prostate cancer. It was the same lifestyle changes for all of them.
In order words, I think he is saying that everything that ages us comes from not doing enough to not age prematurely? Slowing down is equated to giving up. I take issue with this premise. Disease does happen. The accumulation of of toxins in our environmental adds cancers even as other are being cured. The stress of moving into the next decade with the massive political change that may be underway, is not a screen we can turn off.
The missing link as I see it is partly what the Ornishs bring up as the fourth leg of the longevity stool. They call it Love More. According to their research 20% of the adult population can be classified as lonely and therefore depressed and prone to more disease. It is their newer mantra than love conquers all: “The time we spend with loved ones is the single most important determinant in how long and how well we live.”
This makes sense in a certain way. People may find solace in overeating, drugs and other unhealthy behaviors. The loss of a partner, or long time friend can be as devastating as a life challenging medical diagnosis. Yes, social isolation can be a killer. But we can’t add friends and relationships like choosing the healthy stuff from the menu. The missing link to longer life may be the support and the love we get and give, but it is a complex order.