Monday, November 3, 2008

How to live a longer life

Through another blog, I ran across this Prevention article discussing fourteen things that might help you live a longer life. Many of these are attributes or historical events in one's life which we cannot change now. A few are lifestyle patterns which can still be changed. They're not just the typical diet and exercise tips, but instead are some rather surprising factors which you may never have even thought about.

Here's the list—you can click on any link to see the explanation of why it applies.

1. Your Mom Had You Young
2. You're a Tea Lover
3. You'd Rather Walk
4. You Skip Soda (Even Diet)
5. You Have Strong Legs
6. You Eat Purple Food
7. You Were a Healthy-Weight Teen
8. You Don't Like Burgers (or in my case, just don't eat them, which is pretty much the same)
9. You've Been a College Freshman
10. You Really Like Your Friends...
11. ...and They're Healthy
12. You Embrace New Challenges
13. You Don't Have a Housekeeper
14. You're a Flourisher
Will You Live to 100?

I figure there are only two of those which definitely don't apply to me. #1—My mother was not under 25 when I was born (she was 27). And #4—I definitely do drink diet pop, and can't really imagine giving it up any time soon.*

I'm on the fence about whether a couple of others apply or not. #7, about being a healthy weight as a teenager, is a real puzzler for me. That's all wrapped up in my distorted body image from when I was younger. I definitely felt like I was too heavy, but whether I was actually a healthy or unhealthy weight, I'm not sure. When I graduated from high school I weighed almost 20 pounds less than I do now. I was heavier at other times, but whether that was to the point of unhealthy? I saved that for the years after law school.

The one about healthy friends, #11, is difficult too. I don't have a lot of friends, but there are a few, and they are all over the spectrum of healthiness. I'll only mention one by name, Jenifer in Boise, who is certainly on the high end of that spectrum. She is the person who got me to the Y in the first place, and is pretty fanatical about working out. My visits to her always include trips to the Y, Pilates classes, nordic skiing in season, and plenty of walking or hiking in the hills around her house. She tries to eat healthy, although with three kids that's a challenge, and I am quite envious that she stays thin despite enjoying cheese, pasta, and wine. I suppose, though, since I only see her a few times a year, she doesn't really "count" in this category.

My other friends are probably a little less stellar, both in the lifestyle and physical health categories. I understand that this is a negative because studies show that their bad habits might be a bad influence on me. I can see how this works, unfortunately. It is way easier to eat "bad food" (like onion rings at Red Robin, mmmm) if your friends are doing it. And I'll admit that my most social activity, the bimonthly book club, focuses around food and drink (as well as the book!).**

On the other hand, to some extent that relates back to the category just above, #10, having good friends, because interpersonal relationships help reduce stress, which helps both your mental and physical health. So I try to balance the two categories, generally declining to skip my running, YMCA classes, or workouts just to hang out, but being willing to compromise for more special events, as well as planning get-togethers at more acceptable times. (I don't work out on Friday nights, so that helps!) And the food thing? I just try to eat sensibly, the way I normally do, but realize that an occasional treat is good for the mental health too.

There is one item on this list which is a definite yes for me, but I don't know that it actually has any effect on my health. That would be #13, not having housekeeper. I certainly do not have a housekeeper. I would like to have a housekeeper, I probably need to have a housekeeper (if not just a keeper), but I don't. The health benefit here is the physical activity expended in vigorous house cleaning. I regret to say that I just don't do too much of that! Certainly not enough to lengthen my life. In fact, the dust mites and so forth that are undoubtedly living in my corners are probably helping to shorten my life.

Guess I'd better pump up some of the other categories to make up for that. Like flourishing!

*Two that really do apply, in spades—#5, strong legs (I think that speaks for itself) and #6, eating purple food—I consume blueberries and other berries by the gross! Well, pound anyway.

**But what about the concept that hanging out with me might help improve their healthy lifestyles? I haven't been too successful about getting people to go to the Y or running with me, but I have been known to cook salmon for my friends and bring healthier foods to Book Club dinners. It goes both ways.

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