The assumption that healthy people are just lucky, have good genes, or practice preventive medicine is actually no more than a half-truth. The healthiest people in our society - meaning those who avoid catastrophic disease and live to old age without major illness - fall into a different profile.
With good genes you can expect to add roughly three years to your life span, but no one who has lived to 100 ever had a child who lived that long. Likewise, the British aristocracy, who were exposed to the best diet and living conditions in their society for centuries, didn't produce anyone who lived to be 100 until around World War II.
We have a general image, in addition, that a positive outlook on life enhances longevity, but this has never been confirmed. You can be a pessimist and still outlive all the optimists you know. In earlier posts I gave a profile of who gets sick. So far as medicine knows, here is the profile for who doesn't.
--Emotional adaptability is the most important single factor in keeping a person well and living long. Everyone undergoes crises, but people who can bounce back, who look toward the future instead of dwelling on the past, and who demonstrate emotional resilience are the ones who survive best.
--Good coping mechanisms are the key to adaptability. Long-term studies of college students, for example, show that dealing with your psychological issues early on, i.e., in your 20s, is the best preventive of heart attacks, ahead of lowering your cholesterol or even reducing stress.
--Taking control of your life is important. People who feel victimized or out of control are at higher risk for disease.
--Stress reduction: it used to be we thought that stress was a simple matter of "less is better, more is worse." Now we know that individuals react to stress very differently from one another. If you subjectively feel over-stressed, it doesn't matter that the person next to you enjoys the same level and asks for more.
Stress levels are too high when you suffer from irregular appetite, sleeplessness, irritability and short temper, fatigue, loss of energy, lack of enthusiasm, chronic headaches, increased cold and flu, back ache, etc. The healthiest people pay attention to these symptoms and correct them, using whatever it takes.
--Feeling loved, wanted, and useful. All three are necessary for optimal health. The healthiest people don't ignore things that deprive them of these positive qualities. In fact, they guide their lives to maximize all three.
This list is short, but there are many things that are significant by their absence.
- What the healthiest people don't do is:
- Diet and worry about their weight obsessively.
- Compare their bodies to a false ideal of beauty
- Exercise obsessively.
- Let depression and anxiety go untreated.
- Compulsively worry about food, chemicals, toxins, germ exposure, etc.
- Worry about growing old.
- Visit the doctor all the time.
- Allow dysfunctional or abusive relationships to continue.
- Become dependent on prescription medications.
If someone were to come to me for a physical, I'd certainly comply, but before they left I would do everything possible to put them on the right track to optimal health, which has little to do with doctors and everything to do with self-awareness and balance.