Ah, the Fountain of Youth! Ponce de Leon sought it and never found it. But we know many of its secrets. Alas, there is no magic fountain, no pill or supplement, no potion, nor a specific set of genes that guarantees it. But it is a fact that you can live for a long, long time and do it with a mental and physical vigor that will surprise your friends, your children and, yes, even you yourself. You should remember that your genes, which you can do nothing about, account for only about one-third of the chance of reaching a healthy mature age. What you think and do make up the other two thirds of what happens to you. Okay, so what is the bottom line? It comes down to three parts – Mind Set, Physician Action and Personal Action.
Yes, it really starts with your mind. Do you really want to reach a robust, mentally alert, older age? If not, stop reading right now. If you do, then consider the following five medically proven points:
- Challenge your mind. Do not let events control you. Use your mind to challenge yourself. Make short-term and long-term plans. Consider adult education classes, community organizations and action groups, the Sunday crossword puzzle. Maintain a “can-do” attitude. It is your mind. Use it or lose it. Vigorous older people are like this. Sitting in a chair watching TV every night is for those who do not want to use their mind.
- Relationships. It is a fact that people who interact with friends, family and the community seem to live longer and better. The same can be said for spiritual and/or religious relationships. Sexual interaction is a normal human instinct and has no outer age limit. Maintain sexual vigor as you feel is right for you. Finally, if you find that you are staying by yourself and losing interest in relationships and things you previously enjoyed, you may have depression. Discuss this openly with your physician. There is a great deal that can be done about depression at any age.
- Anger. Life has many frustrations and it is normal to become angry once in awhile. However, some people remain angry often. This is not normal. Constant anger causes chemical changes in the body such as increased adrenaline levels. Increased chance of heart attacks and strokes have now been demonstrated in the medical literature in these people. Exercise, relaxation techniques and avoiding these anger provoking events (traffic jams, long lines, etc.) can help.
- Stress. Everyone has some stress some time. However, if it is major or persistent, then some assistance is needed. Chronic stress can tear down your health and all your good intentions. Do not let chronic stress determine your future health.
- Plan financially. Everyone must live within their means. Living beyond it means confronting stress somewhere down the road. So, if you plan on living long, you need the resources to enjoy your plans and living. You must plan accordingly.
- Check your heredity with your doctor. If there is a lot or even a little bit of cancer or heart disease at an early age in your family tree, you may be at risk for these diseases through your genes. These cancers include colon, breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. There are now good surveillance programs for each of these. Likewise, preventive cardiac programs and medications are now very effective. Your doctor can help.
- Symptoms. Of course, you will tell your physician about obvious symptoms like chest pain. But there are some that you may not think are important. Think again. Chronic heartburn, for instance, especially in white males, may lead to cancer of the lower esophagus, the most rapidly rising of all cancers. A little rectal bleeding from hemorrhoids? It may be colon cancer. Minor trouble voiding urine? How about an early prostate cancer. Some minor back pain? Incapacitating osteoporosis may be the outcome. Chronic and progressive fatigue? It may not be overwork but rather eventually incapacitating depression. Listen to your body. If it is talking to you, tell your doctor.
- Blood pressure – check it once or twice a year.
- Lipid profile – total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol. Cholesterol remains very important.
- PSA – the prostate blood test. We are still not sure of its eventual value but it does seem to have some benefit.
- Mammograms and PAP test – a must for all females.
- Colon cancer check – The stool check for hidden blood is simple to do but it is often late in the game when it is positive. Likewise, sigmoidoscopy can no longer be recommended for colon cancer detection. It only reaches 1/10th of your colon and even if a polyp is seen, it generally can’t be removed because the entire colon is not clear. A full colonoscopy is best, at age 40 if there are colon polyps or cancer in your family, at age 50 otherwise. Virtual colonoscopy is still not ready for prime time, but keep tuned.
- Yearly skin check for melanoma– especially if this cancer is present in your close relatives or if you are or were a sun worshiper, have fair skin or have had bad sunburns in your youth.
- Immunizations and vaccinations – Keep up-to-date on polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and the pneumonia (pneumococcus) vaccine. The yearly flu vaccine is generally recommended for those with chronic illnesses and the elderly.
- It is very important to pick your parents carefully. Long-lived parents usually have long lived children.
- Thinness is healthy. You see very few obese people in their 80s or 90s. Overweight people die at an earlier age than do trim, thin ones. As hard as it is to do, you should lose weight and become thin. It is a major factor in good health and long life, less breast and colon cancer, less stroke and heart attacks.
- Diet – Eat well, with lots of vegetables, fish, fruit and whole grains such as pasta, vegetarian pizza, rice, couscous and barley. Avoid excessive meat, fatty foods and saturated fats. If you do not get 20-30 grams of fiber a day in your diet, consider the Jackson Fiber Cocktail.
- Exercise – Physical activity, even regular forceful walking, does make beneficial things happen in your body.
- Tobacco and excessive alcohol – These two are so antithetical (This means really bad) to good health and long life that virtually nothing else you do can make up for the health robbing effects of these two agents. By the way, tobacco is an herb, and alcohol comes from fermented plants. Hmmmm….aren’t all herbs supposed to be good for you? So, no tobacco in any form and a maximum of two alcoholic drinks (preferably red wine) a day.
- Wear a seatbelt when driving. You are just as dead in an accident as you are from a heart attack.
- Don’t get AIDS – While there are now improved treatments, it really can ruin your vacation. Your chances of surviving long-term are still not very good. The mantra is unchanged. No unprotected or unsafe sex and no IV drug use.
- You can take the following based on science…
- Vitamin C – no more than 250-500 mg a day but remember the benefit is still not clearly proven.
- Vitamin B complex with folic acid – once a day (at least 3 mg of B6 and 400 micrograms of folic acid for women).
- Calcium – between 1000-1300 mg a day depending on age, sex, and pregnancy/lactation. Use milk, dairy products and/or calcium carbonate supplements.
- Aspirin – low dose 81 mg once a day and a regular 325 mg tablet every 15 days, but only after discussion with your physician. If your coronary risk is already very low, the risk of stroke may outweigh the benefit.
- Jackson Fiber Cocktail – 20-30 gm of fiber.
- One a day Multiple Vitamin – I no longer recommend these. Virtually every package I inspect at the pharmacies are loaded with numerous minerals such as chromium, boron, cobalt, and even iron, which are of unproven benefit and may be harmful. Iron for the menstruating female is the exception here.
Use herbs with caution, a full understanding of the pros and cons, and with the knowledge that very few health benefits have ever been medically proven for most herbs.