How often do you think about your health? When you get winded walking up the stairs? When you’re getting dressed and your pants are a little tight? When someone close to you passes?
One of my lifelong obsessions has been the pursuit of health—understanding it and attaining it. As a young kid, that meant I was an athlete and challenged my body’s limits. After I became a young adult, I lost sight of that passion and I burned the proverbial candle at both ends. I worked long hours to start my career, ate my fill of junk food, often partied until dawn, and slept very little. I woke up the next morning just to repeat the cycle.
Although this is a common backstory, my personal plotline diverges from the norm. You see, for the past few decades, I’ve been an executive in the field of senior living, founding my own elder care company, Aegis Living which I still run today. During this time, I have learned from the wisest and most simple, from the bravest and most adventuresome, from those impaired by hereditary diseases, and from the most loving and humble teachers, scholars, and public servants.
What is relevant here is that, as I moved into my middle-age years, the psychic impact of my constant awareness of aging and death made me intensely curious about living a good life, and, even more, living the greatest life possible. Ironically, I’d never consciously applied those lessons to myself. I didn’t think I needed them. Oh boy! How could I be so smart and so dumb at the same time?!
I had bought into the myth that our healthis an external thing—measured by how good we look and how functional we are—and not an internal process that maintains and transforms our health at a cellular level. (Stick with me over the next few weeks, and you won’t doubt this fact!)
You may not be able to script how you die, but you can adopt habits that will make it much more likely that you live well, age in healthier ways, and improve the quality of your life in your middle and final chapters. You have the power to change your health destiny right now. I’ve learned it and I live it.
Investigating Healthy Longevity: Four Principles That Are the Foundation of My Experiences
After having my own health scare, ending up in the hospital with sever gastritis, I knew I had to make a change. And it spurred a desire to understand how luck, fate, genes, and habits played into a healthy longevity. I wanted to know which aspects of longevity were a given and which were ours for the taking. What really keeps us well? And what was really killing us?
I spent hundreds of hours in conversations with health experts and ordinary people. I talked to friends and colleagues, doctors, laboratory scientists, and dozens of 80-, 90-, and 100-year-olds—all in an effort to better understand the overwhelming amount of information and advice out there and to understand what is doable for most of us.
From this exploration, four foundational premises rose to the surface:
- Genetics. These play a much smaller part in ourhealth andlongevitythan most of us believe. Only 18-23% of your health is controlled by genetics so wellness is within our control. We’re not at the mercy of our genes.
- Cells. Our bodies are made up of cells, which are renewing and wearing out in a complex dance affected by our underlyinghealth, habits, and environment. Our cells are continually generating, dying, and regenerating, and their healthy life span is significantly in our control. Our choices have a tangible impact on the health and longevity of our cells.
- Inflammation. This premise is the one that has shaped my own attitudes and personal actions most profoundly. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the five leading causes of death in America, excluding accidental death, are, in order, cancer, lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. These devastating illnesses have one thing in common: they all are inflammatory. If we want to minimize the things that are killing us, we need to reduce the inflammation of our cells, which is doable!
- Health habits.We can significantly increase our health during our middle and later years through our choices—our habits of health. We now know that aging is hardwired in our cells, but our cellular life spans are not fixed. Although it’s true that all of us are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s and cancer simply by getting older, our habits of health can improve our odds of avoiding or delaying the onset of some diseases.
These premises have become the foundation of what I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks, namely that we’re not stuck with our current level of health and happiness.
Habits of Health
I learned that every single one of our healthyhabits—from walking to sleeping to eating—supports and extends the life of our cells and has the capacity to improve our brain function, heart and gut health, mental equilibrium, the inflammation that affects so much of our well-being, and our resilience. No matter what our age or current situation, most of us can be healthierlonger, even if we are dealing with an illness or a chronic condition.
The path to health that I created for myself is made of seven habits:
- Wellness: Taking control of your own health—and believing it matters—makes all the rest of the habits possible.
- Health knowledge:Understanding the cellular basis of health and having curiosity about how your body functions can give you powerful insights and the incentive to make better choices. It also contributes to a sense of purpose and happiness.
- Eating: You don’t have to be overwhelmed. The basics of a healthy approach to eating can fit in a chapter! If you are dealing with specific issues, you can layer on additional targeted and personalized approaches.
- Moving: “Exercising” is not enough and can be misguided. We need a new message about movement in our lives to counter today’s life-sapping lifestyle of sitting.
- Sleeping: We can’t function well if we don’t rest. Lack of sufficient or deep sleep is often a silent factor that disrupts your total health, including your eating, your heart health, your digestion and gut problems, your mood, and so much more.
- Relationships: A good marriage goes a long way for longevity, and having deep, happy relationships with friends is a powerful antioxidant for your body and emotional well-being.
- Purpose: Having a purpose in life—a reason to get up every day—leads to happiness and a sense of meaning. Becoming aware of the interconnectedness of your physical and emotional health can strengthen your mood and resilience, relationships, ability to manage stress, and daily sense of joy.
One Step at a Time
I wish I could say I’ve become a poster child for healthy living, but I haven’t. I have, however, increased my healthy behaviors and eliminated a lot of risks by slowing down, doing just a bit less, and trying at all costs not to blow off time with family and friends because of work. I’m giving my body and mind more time to rest and recharge.
I’ve taken charge of my own health, and it feels good. I’ve gone from being on medication for asthma, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar to only a very few.
How? The health habits I am going to share in the next several weeks significantly decrease inflammation in the body, which in turn prevents five of the most common inflammation-based diseases we face today—Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. And, they have substantially improved my quality of life, and I know that they’ll help you, too.
So now it’s your turn. Start with one tip and layer things in bit by bit. Remember: it’s not one or two big habits, it’s the many micro-habits we develop that help us live well.
In my next blog, I’ll share more about taking charge of your health and your healthcare.
But for now, think about your path to finding your healthy edge—that place where your habits of health lead to greater energy, stamina, and ease. What does that look like for you? What’s one small change you can make today that will start you on your path to a longer and healthier life? I’d love it if you’d share it below.
Live Well, Live Long!