Healthy be­hav­iors im­prove your odds for longer life

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - YOUR DAILY BREAK - An­thony Ko­maroff AskDr.K

Eat right. Don’t smoke. Stay ac­tive. Can you give me some mo­ti­va­tion to keep up these healthy be­hav­iors?

I think I get your mes­sage. This col­umn fre­quently presents in­for­ma­tion from sci­en­tific stud­ies about healthy life­style. But in­for­ma­tion alone may not be enough to change be­hav­ior — and it’s hard to change be­hav­ior, par­tic­u­larly when you en­joy it. In­for­ma­tion doesn’t equal mo­ti­va­tion.

I’m not an ex­pert on how to mo­ti­vate peo­ple, but here’s how I mo­ti­vate my­self. I ask my­self what I want from life. In terms of health, I want to live as long as pos­si­ble, free of suf­fer­ing and with my fac­ul­ties in­tact. Then I’ll be able to love and be loved, and to en­joy the things I most en­joy, for as long as pos­si­ble.

So the next ques­tion is: How do I get there? And I don’t mean how do I guar­an­tee I’ll live a long life, free of suf­fer­ing and de­crepi­tude. Be­cause there are no guar­an­tees in life, only odds. You want to know what the odds are that you’ll achieve your goals, and what you can do to im­prove your odds. At least that’s what I want to know.

How do I find out what my odds are, and how to im­prove them? I be­lieve in sci­ence. I don’t be­lieve that any sin­gle sci­en­tific study is in­fal­li­ble, no mat­ter how im­pres­sive it seems. But I be­lieve that the col­lec­tive in­for­ma­tion from many well-done stud­ies is the best, and maybe the only, way I’ll ever learn what I need to know.

For ex­am­ple, in a re­cently pub­lished study, a re­search team fol­lowed nearly 17,000 men and women, aged 17 years and older, for 18 years. They metic­u­lously col­lected in­for­ma­tion on the life­style, the ill­nesses, and the life or death of the study par­tic­i­pants. In other words, they stud­ied more than 300,000 years of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

They com­pared study par­tic­i­pants who ate a healthy diet, got enough phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, drank al­co­hol in mod­er­a­tion and never smoked to those who en­gaged in none of these healthy be­hav­iors. The first group lived an av­er­age of 11 years longer. It’s just the lat­est study that says that the life­style we call “healthy” re­ally is good for our health.

There’s more good news. The same healthy life­style prac­tices that cause you to live longer make those ex­tra years health­ier. Healthy life­style does not just pro­long your de­crepi­tude.

Even more good news: You don’t have to ban­ish all un­healthy prac­tices from your life, al­ways and for­ever. What mat­ters is your usual be­hav­ior. Take me, for ex­am­ple. Does Doc­tor K al­ways fol­low the healthy life­style ad­vice he gives in this col­umn? Some ques­tions an­swer them­selves.

In­for­ma­tion mo­ti­vates me — and so does emo­tion. If fam­ily and friends en­cour­age me along the path I’ve cho­sen, and if I don’t want to dis­ap­point them, I’m more likely to fol­low that path. I hope this ad­vice will help you find the mo­ti­va­tion you need to stay healthy.

(This col­umn ran orig­i­nally in Novem­ber 2014.)

Dr. Ko­maroff is a physi­cian and pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Med­i­cal School.)

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