Living a long life isn’t just about the number on your birthday cake. Wouldn’t you rather celebrate your 70th birthday feeling strong, sharp, and vibrant instead of weak, fatigued, and helpless?
The average life expectancy in our country is about 78 years, up from 70 years just a few decades ago. Modern advances in medicine, effective health education, and many other factors now make it possible for humans to live longer than ever before. We just need to take advantage of it!
Don’t set 78 years as your limit. It’s possible — and even easy! — to add 30 productive and vibrant years to your life. Your grandfather might have been resigned to death by the age of 60, but you don’t have to be. With the right health and lifestyle choices, 90 can be the new 60.
Stop Smoking! Now!
If you have any ambition to live a longer and more vibrant life, you need to quit smoking immediately. There’s no debate about it — smoking is the single largest preventable cause of death in the United States and on the planet.
Of the five leading causes of death, tobacco plays a major role in triggering and accelerating four of them: heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and stroke. It’s estimated that cigarette smoking directly causes one in five deaths every year, which means it causes more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, and car crashes combined. Do you really want to be part of that statistic?
It’s not just about your risk of death, either. In addition to the respiratory diseases and cancers that smoking causes, smoking also diminishes your entire quality of life. Consider the following negative impacts of smoking on your health and vibrancy.
Smoking Increases Risk of Blindness
Smoking is linked to cataracts, macular degeneration, uveitis, diabetic retinopathy, and dry eye syndrome. In other words, it’s an enormous threat to strong vision. The longer you smoke, the higher your risk for blindness becomes. Research shows that smoking doubles your likelihood of forming cataracts and triples your chances of age-related macular degeneration.
It’s no wonder, when you consider the impacts of tobacco on your eyes:
- Toxins and chemicals damage blood vessels inside the eyes
- Tobacco ingredients interfere with production of tears
- Smoking restricts oxygen flow, which damages the retina through oxidative stress
- Nicotine poisoning makes it difficult to distinguish red and green hues
You may not grasp the true effects of vision loss until it occurs, but if you quit smoking now, you may escape the worst.
Smoking Worsens Type 2 Diabetes
The correlation between smoking and type 2 diabetes is undeniable. Smokers are 30-40% more likely to develop diabetes than their nonsmoking peers, and smoking makes diabetes much harder to control.
Type 2 diabetes is a largely preventable disease caused by high and uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Excess glucose in the blood causes severe and lasting damage to the body, and smoking makes it even worse. If you smoke and have diabetes, you can expect the following complications:
- Heart and kidney disease
- Poor blood flow in legs that leads to chronic wounds and possible amputation
- Nerve damage in the arms, legs, and feet
In addition to losing weight, getting more exercise, and eating well, quitting smoking is the easiest way to protect yourself from type 2 diabetes.
Smoking Can Lead to ED
Some of the consequences of smoking are especially private, like erectile dysfunction. Tobacco use narrows blood vessels, including the vessels responsible for transporting blood to the penis. Without strong circulation, it’s difficult for men to achieve full sexual function. This is a frustrating and embarrassing problem, but it’s easy to reverse by quitting smoking.
Reduce Your Risks by Quitting
The statistics of tobacco-related death are stunning, but so are the statistics on quitting! When you stop flooding your body with the 7,000 chemicals found in cigarettes, you can expect the following benefits:
- Reduce risk of heart attack after one year
- Reduce risk of stroke after two to five years
- Cut risk of mouth, throat, and esophageal cancer in half within five years
- Cut risk of lung cancer in half after ten years
- Reduce respiratory symptoms like coughing and wheezing
The moral of the story? If you’re a smoker, you can transform your life expectancy and quality of life just by tossing your pack of cigarettes away and never buying a new one again. It may be easier said than done, but there’s no shortage of support, therapies, and treatments available to help you quit for good.
Control Your Blood Sugar
Balanced blood sugar is the Holy Grail of health. If you could only choose one single factor about your health to control, choose your blood sugar. Balanced blood sugar supports ongoing health in numerous ways, just as unbalanced blood sugar levels harm the body in so many ways.
Why Does Blood Sugar Matter?
Every time you eat a food or drink a beverage containing carbohydrates and sugars, they break down into glucose and travel directly into your bloodstream. All glucose remains in your bloodstream until a substance called insulin is deployed to transport the glucose into the cells throughout your body requiring energy.
This sugar-insulin-energy process is natural and essential to good health, but unfortunately, it’s also highly threatened by your unhealthy lifestyle and eating habits. More than half of all Americans live every day with too much sugar in their blood. This condition of high blood sugar eventually becomes type 2 diabetes.
If you allow your blood sugar levels to get out of control, the consequences become worse with every passing day. Diabetes thickens your blood and makes your heart work too hard, ultimately leading to severe and deadly complications:
- Heart attack and stroke
- Nerve damage
- Vision problems that lead to blindness
- Teeth and gum infections
- Kidney damage
- Poor blood flow
- Slow and inefficient wound healing
Normalize Your Blood Sugar for Better Health
Healthy fats and lean proteins don’t contribute excess glucose into your blood, so they don’t send blood sugar levels surging. Refined carbohydrates and processed foods, on the other hand, immediately overload your bloodstream with excess glucose.
As a result, the quickest way to stabilize your blood sugar is to change the way you eat. Nothing raises your blood sugar faster than carbohydrates, especially high-sugar and refined carbs. Steer clear of white bread, crackers, chips, pastries, and other carb-dense foods. Opt for nutritious whole grains, steel-cut oatmeal, and other carbohydrates that are high in fiber and low in sugar.
Take Steps to Prevent Heart Disease
Heart disease is the ultimate killer, causing a total of 1 in every 4 deaths in America. This condition isn’t one single disease, but an umbrella term that encompasses three distinct disease processes: hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
There’s no one single cause of heart disease, but certain habits and lifestyle choices accelerate the development of heart disease, especially preventable issues like smoking and uncontrolled diabetes.
The Most Preventable Causes of Heart Disease
As you already know, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in our country. It doesn’t just lead to lung cancer and emphysema, but heart disease as well. The chemicals in tobacco smoke cause the cells that line blood vessels to become inflamed and swollen. This narrows the blood vessels, prevents the proper flow of blood, and triggers the conditions that increase the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.
Diabetes is also a major contributing factor to heart disease. In fact, it’s so dangerous that it’s considered a “coronary risk equivalent.” Even if you don’t have documented heart disease, a diabetes diagnosis poses the same threats to your body.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
Getting heart disease isn’t like breaking your arm, where your body is fine one minute and injured the next. Instead, heart disease develops over time. Unfortunately, this leads many intelligent and successful adults to shrug off their symptoms and think, Eh, I’m just borderline, I’ll be fine.
Having a “borderline” blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol reading doesn’t make it acceptable. The term “borderline” makes the condition sound less threatening, but the truth is that a borderline reading is your final opportunity to create better habits before dangerous consequences develop.
You don’t want to put yourself in a position of crisis. If you really want to avoid heart disease and enjoy a lifetime unrestricted by chronic health problems, you need to take action now with the following steps. They aren’t difficult, and some of the most powerful changes are surprisingly subtle:
- Prevent diabetes
- Eat well
- Know your cholesterol numbers
- Get exercise
- Don’t accept “good enough” or “just borderline” as safe
Since heart disease exists in many different forms along an unpredictable spectrum, you also need to work alongside your doctor to maximize your health.
Watch for Signs of Cancer
More than 1,500 people die from cancer every single day, and three people learn they have cancer every minute of the day. Those are devastating statistics, but with the right attention and self-care, you can make sure to catch the signs of your own cancer before it becomes too advanced to treat.
First, make sure you know which cancers pose the biggest threat to your health based on your gender and age:
- Gynecological cancers threaten women in their 20s, 30s, and beyond
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, especially after age 40
- Hormonal changes of menopause put older women at higher risk of ovarian cancer and colon cancer
- Testicular cancer is the biggest threat to young men
- Prostate and colon cancer are the most common cancers in older men
Cancer used to be a death sentence, but unprecedented medical and scientific advances have helped doctors treat cancer with higher success rates than ever before. In fact, there are 15.5 million cancer survivors living in our country right now.
When cancers are caught early, they’re significantly more manageable and often even beatable! The biggest problems occur when diagnosis and treatment are delayed. Unfortunately, busy career-focused men and women are frequently tempted to ignore their symptoms and continue “pushing forward” for the sake of their job responsibilities.
If this sounds familiar, you could be placing yourself at an incredible risk of losing the window of time in which your cancer can be treated with the highest rate of success. Don’t ignore your symptoms for fear of the “Pandora’s Box” that a doctor’s appointment might reveal. Regular screening exams will help uncover signs of cancer early enough for you to receive the treatment you need to continue living an active and rewarding life.
Lower Your Risk of Alzheimer’s
You need to take care of more than just your body if you’re committed to living a long and productive life. Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible and progressive brain disorder, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the most common cause of dementia in older adults.
You may think you could never succumb to the symptoms of dementia, but it’s a real threat to every single one of us. Alzheimer’s disease presents itself in a few distinct ways:
- Memory problems
- Wandering and getting lost
- Difficulty handling money and paying bills
- Personality and behavior changes
- Inability to communicate with or recognize others
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Complete dependence on others
It’s a truly devastating disease, one that the entire medical community still needs to better understand.
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
Unfortunately, of the many unprecedented scientific and medical breakthroughs over the last 30 years, progress on understanding Alzheimer’s disease marks the most colossal failure. We don’t know enough, which means we can’t fully explain how to protect ourselves from this aggressive form of dementia.
We do know that brains affected by Alzheimer’s contain clumps of amyloid plaques and tangled bundles of fiber that cause neurons to lose their connections with each other and die. It’s believed that Alzheimer’s begins in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for forming memories, but quickly moves and shrinks other areas of brain tissue. Genetics, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors can all influence Alzheimer’s disease.
How to Protect Yourself From Alzheimer’s Disease
Until our understanding of the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s improves, the best way to protect yourself from this form of dementia is simply to improve your lifestyle habits. Most importantly, exercise every day, stop smoking, eat a brain-healthy diet, and get enough sleep every night.
I don’t need to remind you of the importance of exercising and eating well, but you may need a reminder about the consequences of failing to implement better habits. When you smoke, sit still all day, and eat junk, your blood sugar levels surge while blood circulation falls. This is a dangerous double whammy because it slows the flow of healthy, oxygenated blood to your brain. Even worse, the blood that your brain does receive is compromised and tainted.
My intuition tells me that poor and poisoned blood flow to the brain triggers inflammation of the brain tissue, aggravates the blood vessels, and accelerates the conditions that create Alzheimer’s. The good news is that if you’re already taking steps to prevent diabetes, you’ll automatically shield yourself from the majority of this damage.
Don’t forget about getting a good night’s sleep, either. Catching five hours of sleep just won’t cut it. Beyond feeling irritable and coping with brain fog, pushing through years or even decades of your life on too little sleep may cause the following health problems:
- Lack of impulse control, which leads to unhealthy behaviors
- Diminished short- and long-term memory
- Increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity
- Inefficient immune system
- Reduced sex drive and stamina
- Anxiety and depression
Instead of just crossing your fingers and hoping to sleep well, take the initiative to get more exercise every day, create a quiet buffer time at the end of each night, and avoid the bad habits you know will detract from your strategic sleep choices.
Don’t Make Reckless Choices
We work our entire lives to become successful and wealthy. Now that you’ve hit that point, you may crave the type of excitement that money can buy. Fast cars, risky business decisions, skydiving, or even drugs. Perhaps you’re bored and craving a bit of variety.
Well, if you want to live to see 90, don’t make stupid choices. Do you really want “Died of Overdose” or “Died in Fiery Crash” written on your tombstone? Protect yourself from completely preventable accidents by choosing safe but rewarding activities.
More than anything, stop texting and driving. We’re all guilty of it, but it’s a behavior that as a society we need to learn to control. In fact, one in every four car accidents in the U.S. is caused by texting and driving. A full 25% of all accidents could be prevented if we just put our phones down!
Most phones offer a “Sorry, I’m Driving!” auto-response, or you can stash your cell in the trunk if you really can’t control your impulse to text. It’s not just yourself that you can kill — it’s other innocent drivers and pedestrians. Is it really worth ruining your entire life to send a text saying, “Meeting at 8 will be fine”?
Improve Your 5 Closest Relationships
There’s no shortage of research proving that healthy relationships are the secret to healthy aging. It isn’t about heart disease or cholesterol, but mental wellness instead. The experience of relating to others is so meaningful. Those of us who maximize social interaction and human contact benefit from better brain health at every stage of life, especially as we age.
In fact, one study followed 7,000 people over a nine-year period and concluded that those with stronger social ties lived longer, regardless of their health problems or socioeconomic status. This could be proof that socializing calms our stress-response system and encourages the brain to continue making connections.
Forging five strong relationships isn’t easy for everyone, but churches, community groups, and support groups make a few great places to begin!
Living isn’t just about staying alive; it’s about feeling productive, accomplished, and proud as well. This feeling of productivity becomes more difficult after retirement, which is why I recommend that you should never truly retire. You may leave your job, but you should always find a way to work for a cause that you believe in.
The entire phenomenon of retirement is relatively new in human history, and it’s really not compatible with human nature. When you put your mind to pasture, your body will follow. You may feel a loss of identity, a loss of purpose, or a loss of drive when you’re no longer waking up each day and knowing you have a specific job to perform. It’s extremely difficult to lose the personal bonds of work colleagues and partners, and your health can suffer accordingly.
If you’re financially stable and don’t need to work solely for money, find a hobby or community service role that helps you restore your sense of purpose. Mentor, help the needy, or find another activity that’s bigger than yourself. You may be surprised to find how much it enriches your life and makes those final 30 years worth it!
You Have the Power to Improve Your Life
The secret to living a longer and more rewarding life isn’t rocket science. It’s a combination of simple changes that culminate into huge health benefits.
Instead of just counting birthdays, count the quality and vibrancy of every year as well. By taking your health by the reins and making powerful changes right now, you’ll enjoy 20 or 30 additional years of rewarding time on Earth.
Make sure to align yourself with a doctor who shares your values, knows you by name, and understands that life is about more than just surviving — it’s about thriving.
I founded Brentwood MD as a concierge medical practice for fast-moving professionals who want a doctor who’s also an advocate and friend. Contact us today so we can help you achieve the vibrant and rewarding life you want to attain.
Dr. Aaron Wenzel is a concierge physician specializing in the care of fast-moving entrepreneurs, executives, and public figures in the Nashville, TN area. Dr. Wenzel’s diverse life experience and extensive training in family medicine, emergency care, nutrition, and hormone replacement therapies give him the unique platform to provide unmatched care for his patients.