Critical Stuff: Take care of your body, or brace yourself for a really next crappy thirty years.
In This Chapter: Life in a bubble. Good doctors, bad doctors. Hospitals and other previews of hell.
The only part of your health you control is what you do to your body and what you stick in your mouth. That’s enough.
Remember how you were supposed to die at 62.7 years old? Well you didn’t, did you. The reason is simple, you’re healthier than people used to be in 1935, and you have access to medicine that actually helps. Everyone talks about the good old days, and how Uncle Eustace was healthy right up until the day he died–at 64. When I was a kid everyone smoked, everyone drank themselves to a stupor regularly, and everyone ate crap. Watch a movie from the fifties–everyone is drinking at a level that gives most adults the shivers. And smoking like chimneys. They drove cars without seatbelts, rode bicycles and motorcycles without helmets, rode in boats withour PFDs, and died like flies.
You didn’t do that, and you had access to reasonable nutrition and decent medical care, so you’re still alive. What next?
The choice is yours. Thirty years being old, fat, weak, lonely, depressed, sick and broke from medical expenses is one option. You can go that way if you like. But you don’t have to.
Let’s talk medical expense. Fidelity Investments estimates that a 65-year-old couple in average health who retired in 2015 would need $245,000 of their own savings to handle 20 years of out-of-pocket retirement health costs. Well that sounds like fun. But if you’re unhealthy that can more than double. The easiest way to save on medical expenses is don’t get sick. Sure, genetics, random chance, the quality of medical care in your area, environmental effects, and dumb luck all have great influence on your health. But the part you have the most control over is how you take care of your body–both basic health and preventative measures. If you smoke, drink to excess, don’t exercise, eat too much, and eat crap then stop doing all of that. Just. Stop.
Lets make this simpler for some of you. If you smoke, and won’t quit, don’t bother reading any further in the health section. You’re excused. It’s not going to help you. Sure, there are some folks that smoke until they are ninety. There are also folks that win the lottery. But neither of those are going to be you.
For the rest of you: You can’t spend your life in a bubble, but you can take a little more care than you are used to. There’s good reason to–as you age your immune system generally becomes less effective. It’s can go bannanas on you and give you a dreadful autoimmune disease, or it can get weakiner and weaker until you can’t shrug off a minor infection or a bout of pneumonia. Lights out.
One in three deaths in the USA happen before the age of 75 and more than 75% of these premature deaths are as a result of:
- heart disease
- respiratory disease
- liver disease
Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity and being overweight are key contributors to each and every one of the big five factors for early death. But perhaps more importantly, you might get one of the big five, and manage to survive it–sort of. If you do, the rest of your life is going to be very, very different.
Reduce your risk of cancer
More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. Lung, breast, prostate and bowel cancer account for more than half of cases. Smoking causes almost all lung cancer. Poor diet is the likely cause of bowel cancer and pancreatic cancer. Prostate and breast cancer are partly genetic but diet, weight, and exercise are all factors, and frequent screening can catch these cancers and increase survival rates substantially.
Reduce your risk of heart disease
Most cases of premature death from heart disease are preventable. Smoking, being overweight, having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, heavy drinking and physical inactivity are all key risk factors.
- Get a physical. Now, and every few years. A lot of the stuff that will screw you up is detectable. I race cars. To keep my license I need to have a yearly physical and a cardiac stress test every other year. I’ve always come through clean, but I know a lot of guys that I race with who didn’t–they credit their frequent physicals with saving their lives. Every year might be a bit much, but maybe not, and most insurance will cover a yearly physical. It’s an hour or two out of your day.
- Exercise reduces your risk of heart attack by 30% or more depending on who’s doing the counting. You don’t have to hit the gym–walking, swimming and cycling are great.
- If you’re fat, you’re taxing your heart every day. But you know that.
Reduce your risk of stroke
First of all, understand that time is tissue–brain, heart or lung. If you understand the symptoms of stroke you can get emergency treatment that minimizes the damage.
High blood pressure is a key cause of stroke. If you have high blood pressure, get treatment. You don’t necessarily have to take drugs, cutting your salt intake might do it. But take the medicine while you’re reducing salt. Once you hit normal you can try going off the drugs–under your doctors direction. If he doesn’t want to try getting you off the drugs without some REALLY good reasons, get another doctor.
Reduce your risk of respiratory disease
Respiratory disease ranges from asthma to COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). COPD is almost completely avoidable–it’s smoking, 85%. The other 15% of cases are from fumes and dusts or very rarely (much less than 1%) a genetic tendency to develop COPD.
Reduce your risk of liver disease
Liver disease is a silent killer, most people have no idea there’s anything wrong until their liver fails and it’s too late. The three main causes of liver disease are heavy drinking, obesity and viral hepatitis. You can be vaccinated for viral hepatitis, the rest is up to you.
Now get healthy
After you’ve done what you can to avoid the big five, there are a host of things you can do to make your life better, increase flexibility, lose weight, increase energy, and generally feel better. I’m not a doctor, if you’re sick, see one. These are just some things I play attention to, in a simple list:
Sleep more. Get a full eight hours of sleep. If you don’t have a particular reason to rise at a specific time, experiment with optimal sleep times for yourself. I’m physically active all day and don’t care for television in general, so my usual bedtime is about 9:00am and I’m up at 5:00 am. That’s eight hours of sleep, and I sleep well. I like having a few hours before anyone else wakes up to do some writing and some quite morning routines.
Dance. It’s good for your bones, your flexibility, and your spirit.
Enjoy music. I used to be a concert freak, but now it’s just recorded music. With the unbelivable access of the internet you can hear anything you want, whenever you want it. I use that capability a lot.
Spend time with friends. A big part of health is attitude.
Stretch. Especially your joints.
Cinnamon–it tastes great in all kinds of things, and there’s a substantial body of evidence that it does good things for Cholesterol. You won’t hear that from many doctors. Big surprise. When I was working as a mechanic and getting 10 percent of the parts sold, I didn’t tell people they could just clean their spark plugs either. Blueberries too–a general antioxidant that may stave off altzheimers. Frozen is fine, but fresh berries taste better.
Vaccinations: Flu, tetanus, pneumonia, shingles. Cheap, and generally effecitve.
Eating deliberately. Are you hungry, or just following a routine, or maybe feeling stressed or bored and some chocolate chip cookies would help. Fix the symptom instead of feeding it. Go do something. Don’t eat just because it’s lunchtime. And if you do, eat what you want, not what is put in front of you. Small plates. Put the 12 inch plates away and use 9 inch ones, except for salad. A giant salad with light dressing is satisfying and good for you. In restaurants, ask for a to-go box before you start eating. Put half your food in and take it home. Restaurant portions are too big.
Thirsty? Drink water. Lots of water. Bored with that? Get a carbonation system and make carbonated water. Add a little mint, a squeeze of lemon, a splash of mango puree, pineapple jusce–whatever. almost no calories and it tastes good and clean.
A single square of dark chocolate will satisfy your craving if you give it time. Have one and go about your day–satisfied.
Weight traing. Doesn’t have to be in a gym. Get some resistance straps and look on the web for complete strength training routines using them. Lots of health benefits, but most important it slows the muscle loss you experience as you age.
Take a walk. Even just around your neighborhood. Good for your body and your mind.
Back exercises–the YMCA healthy back program works wonders–google it, though you’ll find the first ten pages want to sell you something. Simple arched back stretches help greatly.
Clean your teeth. Brush, floss and see the dentist for cleaning. Besides the usual oral nastiness, cankers, infections and other unpleasantness, heart disease is strongly linked to gum disease. Stroke is also linked, though not as convincingly.
Remember I said drink water? Drink more. Drink a lot of water. There’s a limit to how much is healthy, but you’re no where near it. If your pee is dark yellow, you’re dehydrated. Not good for you and there’s an easy answer: Drink water.
The best way to get Omega 3 fatty acids is eating oily fish, like wild salmon. If you’re not that much into fish then fish oil capsules may be a worthwhile supplement.
If you’re over 50 you should make sure you’re getting at least 1200mg of calcium per day, but that needs to be coupled to manesium and vitamin D consumption. You can get that with food and dairy, especially vitamin-D enriched milk, or you can supplement with an approporate daily vitamin pill.
Get a pedicure. Feet and nails need care or you can host toenail fungus and other fungal infections. These infections link to many systemic and immune diseases. It gets challenging to care for your feet as you age. An occassional pedicure from a practitioner who is careful with sanitation will help control these infections. Feels great too.