I love sports. When I was in grammar school, my grandfather took me to my first Dodger game. I dreamed of one day growing up to be a professional baseball player. When I was in junior high school, I played basketball in the Junior Olympics and dreamed of playing basketball for the Lakers like my hero, Jerry West, aka “Mr. Clutch,” aka “Zeke from Cabin Creek.”
When I got to high school, however, I stopped growing. So, I gave up basketball and took up golf, where I was team captain for the Beverly Hills High School golf team in 1976. However, when I got to college, I succumbed to the notion that I wasn’t ever going to be big enough to be a professional athlete, so I focused on finding a career in business.
Back in the 1970s, nobody told me that one day Colin Morikawa, at 5’9”, would win a major golf championship, i.e., the 2020 PGA Championship. Back in the 1970s, I prayed and dreamed of growing bigger. I should have been more specific. Instead of growing vertically, I continued to grow horizontally.
When I graduated college, my belt size was 24. However, after the age of 24 when my physical activity slowed down, my belt size grew correspondingly by age. When I was 28, my belt size was 28. When I was 32, my belt size was 32. When I hit 38, my belt size was 38. Now weighing over 200 pounds, I promised myself not to get to a 40-inch waist.
Turned out, 200 pounds was too big. At age 59, still wearing size 38-waist pants, I had a heart attack. My cardiologist told me to lose weight. So, I did. I stopped eating fast food and junk food and got down to 180 pounds. I looked better and felt better. Until recently, when I read a study about life expectancy by Harvard that was published by the American Heart Assn.
According to the study, you can extend your life by 10 years or more if you can follow these five healthy habits: (1) never smoke; (2) maintain a healthy body-mass index; (3) keep up moderate to vigorous exercise; (4) don’t drink too much alcohol; and (5) eat a healthy diet (source: www.cancer.org, May 10, 2018).
Here is how these healthy habits were defined and measured:
- Smoking, well, there is no healthy amount of smoking. “Healthy” here meant never having smoked
- Healthy body weight, defined as a normal body mass index, which is between 18.5 and 24.9.
- Healthy physical activity level, which was measured as at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity.
- Moderate alcohol intake, which was measured as 5-15 grams per day for women, and 5-30 grams per day for men. Generally, that is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
- Healthy diet, which was calculated based on the reported intake of healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, trans fat and sodium.
The study highlighted how the combination of all five healthy habits could help prolong your life expectancy. Sticking to all five healthy habits at age 50 was associated with 14 additional years of life expectancy among women and 12.2 additional years among men (compared with not adhering to any of them).
“The findings should encourage and motivate people to adopt a healthier lifestyle,” said Dr. Douglas Vaughan, chairman of the department of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Even if you can’t stick to all five healthy habits, Vaughan pointed out how each individual factor also was tied to a reduced risk of premature death.
Although adhering to each of these factors is significantly associated with a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer (the Top 2 killers in the United States), “It looks like cigarette smoking has a more powerful effect than the other lifestyle changes or behaviors,” said Vaughan.
Dr. Jack Der-Sarkissian of Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, agreed calling smoking “the least-debated health risk factor. Beyond cancer risk, smoking contributes to lung disease, heart disease and diabetes. The study shows that even minimal smoking — from one to 14 cigarettes a day — is associated with increased death due to cancer and heart disease.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know cigarette smoking is bad for you. Tell me something I don’t already know.”
OK, fair enough – let’s talk about BMI, or body-mass index. Do you know what your BMI is? I didn’t. BMI is a calculation derived from a person’s weight and height; it is used as a screening tool for body fatness.
Getting weight below a BMI of 30 appears to help considerably. According to Vaughan, “Maintaining a reasonable body-mass index is a great way to protect oneself against the development of diabetes. So, in aggregate, we see the effect on longevity, but you can imagine it’s largely through effects on cardiovascular risk and metabolic risk.”
To calculate your BMI, go online to find a free Body Mass Index calculator. Hit the one that has “www.NHLBI” on it (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute). It’s quite simple: Enter your height and weight, then hit “Compute BMI.” Hopefully, your BMI is normal between 18.5 and 24.9. Mine is currently 26.9. I still have to lose 12-15 pounds.
Living a healthy life increases our longevity. By adopting better health habits, we can.
Judd Matsunaga is the founding attorney of Elder Law Services of California, a law firm that specializes in Medi-Cal Planning, Estate Planning and Probate. He can be contacted at (310) 348-2995 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Pacific Citizen or constitute legal or tax advice and should not be treated as such.