Dear Doc: I’ve read your newspaper column and listened to your radio show for years but – and it’s a big but – your “enjoy life and you just may live longer” column was so, so wrong.
Why the obsession with living longer? I’m a 60-year-old retired educator in good health and weight and I walk daily. And the last thing I want to do is “live longer.” The aches I feel at 60 are going to be multiplied over and over again by the time I reach my life expectancy of 75.
Why would anybody in their right mind want to live five or 10 years longer, given the diminishment of mind and body that goes along with every passing year? We’re all going to die. That’s a fact. Why the obsession of postponing it until you’re creaky, brittle and demented so much that you forget your own name? Yuck! – J.B.
Dear J.B.: You are so, so wrong. So wrong. But you are spot-on when it comes to illuminating exactly what too many people think of as old age.
So let’s look at some interesting facts. There are fewer nursing home beds per capita today than when Ronald Reagan was president. According to the notable Framingham Heart Study data, there has been a dramatic 30 percent drop in dementia including Alzheimer’s in all groups except high school dropouts. Education clearly plays a role in keeping your mind fit. And this comes on top of the 75 percent drop in stroke over the same period. And let’s not forget that back in the day a heart attack meant a death sentence, or as my mother-in-law would say, a “cardiac cripple.”
So what does this mean? It means you’re not headed to hell in a handbasket, as you think you are. You assume your arthritis will get worse – and worsen it might. But with exercise, yoga, a few ibuprofen here and there, you can easily weather this storm. As for the diminishment of other bodily organs, yes, they do tend to “wear out” over time, but with TLC they can function just fine.
When I entered college back in 1965, I thought 65 was old – and so did everybody else. If you kicked the bucket at 75, people often said, “Well, they lived a good life. A long one at that.”
But today, people would not say that. They would say, “What happened? They were only 75.” That’s because we’re more robust than ever, live longer than ever and are less disabled than our parents or grandparents were.
The biggies in this story are making sure to toss the greatest toxin of all, tobacco; treating cholesterol and hypertension; picking up some cancers and treating them; and eating a diet rich in flavonoids, vitamins and minerals, with fruits and vegatables rather than meat and potatoes.
And let’s not forget that great equalizer: exercise. The old idea of sitting in your rocking chair and watching the world go by is death by boredom.
My spin: The long, sweet life is as long as you can be robust and in full use of your faculties. Taking care of that precious body can lead to great rewards down the line. Keep truckin.’ And stay well.