We all want to live a long, sweet life. I look at it as a coin with “longevity” on one side and “quality” on the other. Having one without the other is not the way to go.
So when I reviewed a recent article in the prestigious journal Lancet, I was blown away to see how far we’ve come. We Americans have gained 10 years of life expectancy since the early 1960s. That’s mind-boggling.
And if you compare life expectancy today to way back in 1900, when the average Joe lived to the ripe age of 46, it’s even more staggering.
So how did this happen?
A steep drop in infectious diseases gets much of the credit, because we are immunizing ourselves and our children against polio, measles, rubella, meningitis, hepatitis, pneumonia and influenza.
Far fewer mothers and babies are dying in childbirth because of better nutrition and better prenatal care, and because more pregnant women have stopped drinking and smoking.
And then there are the massive advances in treatment for blood pressure issues and heart disease. When I started in medical practice, we only had a few blood pressure medications and they had awful side effects such as dizziness, depression and erectile dysfunction. Try getting a 40-year-old guy to take a pill that affects his sex drive – it’s an uphill battle.
Today’s meds are effective, well-tolerated and cheap. The only problem is that you have to take them every day.
As for heart disease, look what we have: cholesterol drugs such as Lipitor that are known to keep that first heart attack from even happening. And if you need treatment, instead of complicated open-heart surgery, many can undergo angioplasty, a same-day outpatient treatment. We have reduced strokes and premature death from heart attacks by more than 60 percent since the 1960s.
So should we stand on our laurels? Absolutely not. I’ll give you my four areas of emphasis for the rest of this year.
1. Accident prevention. That means wearing seat belts, sensible driving and no excessive drinking if you’re behind the wheel. New York should get even more serious about drunk driving. I say triple the fines for second offenders and lock them up for the weekend. That might knock some sense into them.
2. STD prevention. Recent research shows HIV is soaring in the under-25 and over-50 age groups. More work is needed to halt the spread of this and other sexually transmitted diseases.
3. Move your body. We do need to exercise – at a bare minimum 15 minutes every day. Do you think you can spare that much time away from texting? I suspect so.
4. Eat a more Mediterranean diet. That means more fruits, vegetables and fish, and less beef, pork and chicken. But people often leave out the other component of this top diet. Those in Mediterranean regions – Italy, France, Spain and Greece, for example – are more likely to eat with others. They relish the chance to relax with friends over a fine meal. Perhaps we need to change our priorities in New York. Doesn’t a home-cooked meal with those you love sound luscious right now?
My spin: I bet you and I can gain even more longevity if we work on it. When I was in high school, if someone dropped dead at 65 most people said, “Well, he lived a long life.” Now we’d say, “Why so young?”
Take my lead and shoot for 90 good years. It may take some work, but it’s not out of the question. Stay well.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a popular radio call-in program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.