Let's say you knew that on December 15, 2020, you were going to die in Springfield, Illinois. What would you do? Well, for starters you would probably prolong your life simply by avoiding Springfield, Illinois on December 15, 2020.
I'm sick of the anti-aging industry. Basically, nothing fancy works. Dr. Oz recommends reservatrol but scientific studies only show that enormous amounts of it are what expands the lifespan of a mouse. There's no way to take an equivalent amount as a human. Anti-aging expert Andrew Weil often suggests herbal remedies instead of pharmaceutical medicines but I think, again, the research is very unclear and it's no secret that lifespans have gone up in general with the rise of more readily available, FDA-approved pharmaceuticals. There's always a lot of discussion of homeopathic medicine but, again, the evidence is lacking.
My view is to take a very common sense view towards aging. By the way, I have never thought about anti-aging techniques before. But I'm 42-years-old now, and probably past the half-point of my life, so I've started to wonder about it. Common sense has served me well in most other areas of my life. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, puts it succinctly with "Do no harm" in his hippocratic oath. There's a similar rule in the area of financial advice which I think applies here as well. It's actually two rules, stated by Warren Buffett, the greatest investor ever: "Rule No. 1: Don't Lose Money. Rule No. 2: Don't Forget Rule #1."
The Warren Buffett approach is appealing. Think about it from a financial perspective. Most of the reasons people go broke is not because they failed to make money but because they spent their hard-earned money on bad investments that went to zero. In other words, they broke Buffett's rules. Much more important than figuring out how to add dollars to your net worth is how to avoid losing the dollars you've already accumulated. Applied to the anti-aging industry -- don't spend so much time figuring out how to add years to your lifespan. How about use common sense to make sure you don't make additional decisions that cost you your health.
We know what the main killers are in life (this comes from the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Government, data):
Top 10 Killers
Heart disease: 616,067
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 135,952
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 127,924
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 123,706
Alzheimer's disease: 74,632
Influenza and Pneumonia: 52,717
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 46,448
So lets start by avoiding some of these diseases.
1. No Smoking. You only have to go to the American Heart Organization website to see their research on how smoking is related to heart disease. Here is the link. A quote: "Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery." There's also numerous studies on the effects of smoking on cancer. Here's a link to cancer.gov. Here's the quote: "Of the 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, more than 50 have been found to cause cancer. These chemicals include (4, 5):
arsenic (a heavy metal toxin)
benzene (a chemical found in gasoline)
beryllium (a toxic metal)
cadmium (a metal used in batteries)
chromium (a metallic element)
ethylene oxide (a chemical used to sterilize medical devices)
nickel (a metallic element)
polonium-210 (a chemical element that gives off radiation)
vinyl chloride (a toxic substance used in plastics manufacture)"
That's pretty bad. I just have to read the first: "arsenic." Who wants to put arsenic in their body? Don't forget rule #1!
2. No Heavy Drinking. Note that I say "heavy" drinking and not drinking in general. In fact, many studies show that moderate drinking reduces the risk of heart attacks by up to 40 percent. Here's a list of studies that show the types of cancers that moderate drinking actually help prevent. What is moderate versus heavy drinking? At cdc.goc, "drinking in moderation is defined as having no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men."
Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is lethal. Obviously, it increases your risk of having a fatal accident, but there's numerous studies showing that heavy drinking is linked to various cancers, heart disease, and Alzheimer's. Here's a quote from Alzinfo.org: "In the study, researchers found that the combination of heavy drinking and heavy smoking sped up the age of onset of Alzheimer's by six to seven years. That is a considerable number, making them among the most important preventable risk factors for Alzheimer's disease." Oh yeah, there's that smoking thing again.
On heartdisease.about.com: "After their heart attacks, patients who had done any binge drinking during the previous year had a death rate that was 73 percent higher than patients who did not do any binge drinking. Even occasional binge drinking (as they defined that term in this study) increased the risk of death." Binge drinking they define as having three or more beers in a day.
From the American Cancer Society: "Death from liver cancer is higher among heavy alcohol users than among people who do not drink."
So it's pretty simple. You can avoid accidents, heart disease and a bunch of cancers if you never drink more than two beers a day.
3. Sex. It doesn't have to be all puritan. Maybe you like to smoke and drink a lot and now you're pretty upset. How about taking up a more fun activity during the day, like sex. Here's an article by Jonah Lehrer: "Sex is stressful but good for you." Basically it shows that sex activates various hormones that increases your immune system, decreases your stress levels, reduces the risk of Alzheimer's and all sorts of other good things. And it's pretty much common sense that this is a good thing. Heck, the Bible recommends we do a lot of it.
Here's another article from WebMd on the 10 health benefits of sex. One quote: "The researchers also found that having sex twice or more a week reduced the risk of fatal heart attack by half for the men, compared with those who had sex less than once a month."
4. No snacking. Obesity is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, etc. There's no shame in being obese. Over one-third of adult Americans are obese according to the Centers for Disease Control. And being overweight and enjoying food are not crimes. But if you stick to the basics you'll avoid (reduce) being obese. Four simple rules:
- No sodas. Ever. One can of coke contains 16 sugars. That's just mindless calories.
- No snacks between meals. Have a breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And that's it.
- No white at night. Meaning, no pasta, no ice cream, no cheese, no bread. Nothing white at night. Enjoy a steak and some asparagus.
- One item for breakfast. Knock yourself out if you want a croissant. Or a bagel with cream cheese. Or a fruit cup. Or one Belgian waffle. But stick to only one item.
Do whatever you want for lunch. Doesn't matter as long as you stick to the other rules above. And if you are also avoiding the heavy drinking then your calories will stay down and your weight might go down.
5. Exercise. I know, everyone says this. I don't want to be boring so we'll keep this simple and stick to the minimal basics. First off, its obvious that exercise and being in shape has health benefits. From the Mayo Clinic, here's an article on the benefits of exercise. A quote: "Regular physical activity can help you prevent -- or manage -- high blood pressure. Your cholesterol will benefit, too. Regular physical activity boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol while decreasing triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly by lowering the buildup of plaques in your arteries."
And there's more. "Regular physical activity can help you prevent type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer."
BAM! We avoid the two top killers and probably a bunch more.
If you are already an exercise fanatic, then this section isn't for you. But if you are not really that into exercise or you get bored with it then we need to figure out how to trick your mind and body into getting motivated to exercise. Minimally, you want to do a half hour of exercise a day but that can be spread out. Some ideas:
- Can you wake up 10 minutes earlier and do 30 push ups and 30 sit ups? You're going to get in good shape and build muscle.
- Can you take the stairs instead of an escalator whenever you get the chance?
- Can you park a little further from work and walk a half mile instead of parking right at the door?
- Take a tango lesson once a week or ballroom dancing. Or play a couple of games of tennis or even ping pong. Anything that can get you to sweat a little bit.
- Find a basketball court and just try to shoot 10 baskets. Just the jumping and shooting is decent exercise for 10 minutes and might be fun.
- Get someone to show you two to four yoga poses. Do them every day.
The key is just to get the body moving in a way that's new and a little more difficult than its usual movements (sitting down, sleeping and eating). And if you're really motivated and just want to get through a half hour of solid exercise, just do 100 push ups, 100 sit ups, and 100 squats in a half hour period. Do it three times a week and you're set for life.
6. Sleep a lot. Sleeping is great. For one thing, when you sleep, you probably won't have a fatal accident. Nor will you be eating while you sleep. Or drinking heavily or smoking, or any of the other activities that can cause an inconveniently timed death. Don't we all like to sleep a little more? Certainly sleeping an extra hour a day has got to be a lot easier than exercising an hour a day.
So how much sleep do you need? Seven to eight hours a night. More than that is not even necessarily healthy. Statistics show that people who regularly sleep eight hours a night, no more and no less, live the longest.
So what can you do?
First off, if you have to wake up by 6 a.m. to go to work then it means you need to be asleep by 10.
- Avoid eating after 7:30 p.m. You need 2.5 hours to start digesting that food before you lie down.
- No caffeine after 2 p.m.
- Ideally, don't read emails after 7p.m. Reading email is like getting a jolt of caffeine injected right into your blood stream
- If you are avoiding heavy drinking then that's a good thing: alcoholic drinks have sugar which can spike you awake in the middle of the night.
- Around 6 p.m., write down everything productive you did that day. Every little thing. Believe me, you'll be surprised at the things you did that day. You did good. And you'll feel better about it. More relaxed.
7. Regular Flow. You know what I mean: constipation is bad. Imagine keeping all that horrible bacteria in your body one more second than you have to. Get it out! What happens is that fecal matter builds up in your colon, causing an unvirtuous cycle: the more fecal matter that builds up, blocking the openings of the colon, the more fecal matter gets stuck up there, putrefying for years. The key of all of this article is how to very simply avoid the leading causes of death. Keeping the inside of your body clean is the simplest. Going to the bathroom more than three times a week is key. Everyone varies in this but ideally, at least once a day is enough to keep the factory working.
How to avoid constipation:
- Use it or lose it. When you have to go ... GO!
- High fiber diet: fruits, vegetables, high fiber cereals (Dr. John Harvey Kellog, the founder of Kellog's cereal, invented his high-bran, high fiber cereal for just this purpose).
- Lots of liquids
- Avoid eating too much low-fiber foods. Obviously we all like our ice cream. But too march starch and sugar could be bad, particularly if you are currently suffering.
8. Feel Gratitude. Stress effects every aspect of your physical health and can cause every single one of the causes of death mentioned above. Every technique described above indirectly reduces stress. But dealing with stress also involves building your mental muscles. Mental muscles are like physical ones -- they atrophy. If you are bedridden for a few months then you would have to engage in intense physical rehab in order to even walk because your muscles would've atrophied that severely and quickly.
Its the same with mental muscles. The muscle that prevents stress needs to be regularly exercised or you will succumb to the excesses of too much stress in your life and you won't be able to climb out of the hole. Believe me, I know this. At different times in my life I've made and lost millions. Part of what I do is I daytrade for a living. While there are many stressful jobs out there, daytrading has to be among the top 10. When I'm in a big position and it starts moving against me I feel every heartbeat in my body pushing the blood all around. The stress permeates me and part of the daily routine of a daytrader is learning to deal with the stress.
Think of the human body when its mugged, or when a car is bearing down on it. The human body signals a flight or fight response. Your adrenalin pumps through and its almost as if you have superhuman powers as you either run the fastest you've ever run, or you jump out of the way of a car or, god hoping, you block a car from running over your baby, as has happened in extreme examples. In other words, in a normal response to stress you feel the stress, your body produces the adrenalin and hormones to deal with it, and you react, quickly working off the stress.
But the normal daily grind that causes our stress almost never gets worked off. Its as if you are mugged all day long. And that leads to only bad things in the body (see all 10 killers above).
There are many ways to avoid stress but the one I'm focusing on in this technique is to exercise your gratitude muscle. Try it for just five minutes a day. List all of the things you are grateful for. Don't think about anything else. You don't need to meditate with the Dalai lama to reduce stress. All you have to do is for five minutes a day think about the things you are grateful for. Your kids. Your friends. The walk you took yesterday. The smile a stranger through your way this morning.
Once the muscle is exercised, then get it working again during the moments you feel stressed. If you are feeling stress about a family relationship, think about a time when that relationship was great in your life. If you are feeling stressed about money, remember that all things cycle and whatever you have this second is still enough for you to enjoy life. I know it sounds corny. But if you do that five minutes a day I can guarantee that you'll be surprised at the new muscles you find.
9. Mental exercises. Nobody knows for sure how every detail of the brain works. But we do have a basic model. The brain has 100mm neurons, give or take, that communicate via synapses. When you learn something new, a bunch of neurons and their synapses fire up with traffic. The more traffic between neurons, the more their synapses strengthen. There are other benefits to keeping sharp: higher income, perhaps less stress, hopefully an ability to avoid accidents (like balancing your checkbook incorrectly), etc.
Some mental exercises you can do daily to keep sharp:
- Play memory games. Exercise your memory
- Get a book of brain teasers and puzzles and solve them.
- Play chess, checkers, poker, any game that requires some strategic thought and memorization.
- After meeting a person, try to remember everything he or she wore and said.
- Try to eat lefty every once in awhile (or right-handed if you are left-handed).
- Right now try to figure out what coins are in your pocket just by touch. Now do the same for bills (100 dollar bills are less worn than ones)
- Play boggle or any other game which takes a set of letters and you try to see how many new words you can form from it.
Like physical exercise, if you do mental exercises for 20-30 minutes a day for five days a week you'll see dramatic results in a very short time.
10. Practice Hospital Safety
Something like 40,000 people die each year from infections they get in the hospital according the CDC. Essentially, hospitals are filled with bacteria and hospital staff (not in every hospital, but some) routinely ignore the basic steps required to insure that people do not pass infections to others.
- Make sure anyone who touches you washes your hands first.
- Don't read the magazines (or, if you are a kid, play with the toys) in the waiting lounges at hospitals or doctor's rooms.
- Have an advocate with you preferably at all times.
- Question all surgeries. If the doctor says "can you do surgery next Tuesday," find out first if there's any other non-surgical procedures. I hate to be blasphemous to the medical industry but first check with an acupuncturist (a good one that is recommended by friends who were actually helped by that acupuncturist) or a chiropractor. See if physical rehab can help first, or at least be tried without detrimental effects to the body part in question.
- If you must do surgery make sure the surgeon has ample experience (no students!) and make sure a checklist is used during the procedure (Atul Gawande has an excellent book on the topic of doctors using checklists.
- You want to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible if you are having surgery there. Here's a basic tip: Don''t have your surgery on a Thursday. Doctors don't want to work on a weekend. You might be stuck there for the whole weekend if you just need to be in the hospital for a max two days.
- If you are using a teaching hospital, try to avoid going there (if possible) during July. There is the notorious "July Effect" when interns become residents, residents become full-time doctors, etc. It's the first time many of these new doctors are full time in their specialty and may not have the experience yet to accurately diagnose and prescribe the right medicines, etc. Here's an article on the dangers of July in a hospital.
- Make sure the doctor has clear handwriting on prescriptions. Believe it or not, the famous ability of pharmacists to read the handwriting of doctors is just not true. Here's a recent article claiming that 7,000 deaths per year are caused by poor handwriting on prescriptions.
- Avoid being plugged into an IV. If you can swallow liquids, drink the water, don't have it put into you via a possibly contaminated IV unit.
A quick story: I was once pretending to be a respiratory therapist for a week in a hospital (long story) and I got to walk around with doctors, other respiratory therapists, etc on their routines. It wasn't uncommon to hear a story such as "such and such nurse took the tracheotomy tube out but forgot to plug it up and the patient suffocated." Again, not every hospital is like this but mistakes are made. There are millions of surgical procedures a year. Some complicated and some simple and all it takes is a tiny percentage of those to go wrong and the number of deaths from surgery accidents will far exceed the number of deaths from plane crashes each year. "The number of adverse events each year (is) equivalent to 13 jumbo jets crashing and killing all 350 passengers on board,'' Kevin Rudd's Australian National Health and Hospital Reform Commission says. An advocate every step of the way can insure that proper procedures are being followed.
11. Cleanliness. This one's obvious. We collect bacteria throughout the day by touching doorknobs, staircase rails, elevator buttons, shaking hands, eating food, etc. Also, there's the saying: "clean desk, clean mind." In other words, keeping our environment clean is not only physically healthy but helps to reduce stress and makes you more productive. Reducing stress, as mentioned above, is key to avoiding many of the diseases that cause death.
- Wash hands every time you go from outside to inside. Under the nails is one of the dirtiest parts of the entire body and once you take those nails and rub your eyes or scratch an itch, you are infecting yourself with any bacteria that grabbed onto the inside of those nails. Keep them short. Wash them regularly.
- Brush your teeth. Bacteria is all over your mouth. Brushing after every meal is keep and before you go to sleep and after you wake up. It sounds annoying but brushing, flossing, and using a tongue scraper for anything that stays attached to your tongue will help prevent any disease and, of course, keep your breath clean.
- Make your bed. Who doesn't like to come home to a made bed.
- Clean your desk.
- This is a drag but shower every morning and night. When you go to sleep at night you have a whole day's worth of bacteria on your. Why take that bacteria and put it all over your nice clean sheets when you can avoid it?
12. Avoid accidents. This almost seems like an oxymoron. The word "accident" implies there is some degree of luck involved. Like you were walking along outside of a building and something falls out of a high up window and hits you. That's an accident that seems like just bad luck. Or is it. We know that 123,000 accidents a year occur. So lets break that down a little further.
About half the accidental deaths come from car accidents. So one thing we can do is simply avoid getting in cars. Now, that's not always possible because we need cars to get to work. But a couple of thoughts:
- If you have a choice: live closer to work. Or take public transportation.
- If you don't have a choice: try to avoid doing more than one activity at a time while in the car. Don't eat, talk on the cell phone, don't play with the radio.
- Don't jaywalk (don't be the recipient of a car accident if its easy to avoid).
- Wear a seat belt
- About 1/3 of accidents happen at home. Don't get fancy and try to fix the TV antenna on the roof. Don't get on a ladder if you don't have to. Be careful when walking down stairs, etc.
The anti-aging industry makes billions trying to get you to take fancy pills., buy expensive equipment, do expensive medical tests, etc. But sometimes the simplest way to live longer is to avoid all the ways you were going to die.
Follow James Altucher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaltucher