Live longer and better
Medical breakthroughs and healthy lifestyle choices
A new book, The Great Age Reboot – Cracking the Longevity Code for a Younger Tomorrow, paints an exciting picture of how impending breakthroughs in medical technology (medical devices, wearables, drugs) over the next two decades will markedly extend lifespan and dramatically restructure American society. For example, today’s 75-year old Americans will live, on average, to age 100.
How about tiny robots will that remove artery plaque, thereby eliminating the need for stent surgery? Or how about DNA editing that will remove a short segment that predisposes you to colon cancer? If these don’t get your attention, how about 3D-printed organs that replace damaged original equipment? The Great Age Reboot authors claim that many breakthroughs will be available for most Americans by 2050.
Aside from living longer, Americans will also work longer as a consequence of better health during their longer lifespans. The minimum age for Social Security retirement benefits will increase to age 70 (or higher). Americans will save more money and start saving earlier to pay for their long retirement, from say, age 75 to 100. Increased medical care costs will be paid for by taxes paid by Americans working (and earning more money and paying into Social Security) longer.
The authors caution that the benefits of advances in medical technology will accrue disproportionately to those who embrace healthy lifestyle choices, namely (using my terminology) Keep Moving, Eat Better, Sleep More & Better, Defuse Chronic Stress, and Cultivate Social Connections. This list reflects pretty much the limit of what the medical establishment recognizes as evidence-based, practical, and easy-to-understand healthy lifestyle choices. Alas, other evidence-based, practical, and easy-to-understand healthy lifestyle choices, namely Keep Learning, Develop a Positive Mental Attitude, Live with Purpose, and Participate in a Spiritual Community, don’t merit much if any attention.
In my view, the advances in medical technology are much more likely to come to fruition in the next few decades compared to the willingness of Americans to embrace healthy lifestyle choices. Studies suggest that only a small proportion (less than 10 percent) of participants in long-term studies embrace a suite of healthy lifestyle choices in their daily lives. Here are two examples.
The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) ran from 2000-2010. Researchers used data from 6,229 participants to evaluate associations between healthy lifestyle habits and coronary artery calcium, cardiovascular events, and death. Calcification of coronary arteries increases risk of coronary heart disease. Healthy lifestyle habits included 1) diet (median adherence score or better to a Mediterranean diet, 2) body-mass index (between 18.5 and 24.9), 3) never smoking, and 4) regular physical activity (at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or at least 75 minutes of strenuous physical activity per week). Participants with all four healthy habits had an 81 percent lower risk of dying over the average follow-up of 8 years compared to those with no healthy habits. This is huge! Sadly, only 2 percent of all participants exhibited all four healthy habits.
Harvard researchers used data from the Nurses’ Health Study to determine whether low-risk lifestyle choices would predict less chance of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes. The researchers defined the low-risk women as those who 1) never smoked, 2) had a body-mass index less than 25, 3) did moderate to vigorous exercise at least half an hour per day, 4) ate a diet rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and folic acid (enriched foods, dried beans, avocados, vegetables, seeds, nuts), and 5) consumed at least one-half of an alcoholic drink per day. Compared to women who didn’t adopt any low-risk lifestyle choices, those who adopted all five reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 87 percent over the 14-year follow-up period. This is huge! However, only three percent of the women—nurses, mind you—landed in the low-risk category.
The low rate of Americans embracing healthy lifestyle choices perplexes me, given the overwhelming evidence that healthy lifestyle choices can greatly reduce risks of cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease, stroke), type 2 diabetes (and it many and serious complications), and high blood pressure, to name but a few. Commonly cited reasons for business-as-usual include lack of time (even for retirees!), cost (a pair of decent shoes to walk around the block?), and not wanting to sign up for a gym membership (free for many seniors with Medicare supplemental insurance). My personal opinion is that most of us Americans have not identified a compelling, emotionally powerful reason to adopt healthy lifestyle choices. I urge you to find what I call a BIG WHY in your life that will motivate you to adopt healthy lifestyle choices so you’ll enjoy the benefits of breakthrough medical technologies and live longer and better.