Every Man Dies, Not Every Man Really Lives
Does the title of this article ring a bell? It might if you have seen the movie Braveheart. William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) spoke those thought provoking words. Though, hard as we may try to slow the aging process, there’s a pretty good chance that you and I will die. I put those odds right around 100%. What do you think? Despite the inevitable end on this earth and the reality that every man dies there is value and reason in trying to delay death. For in its pursuit we will most surely live healthier and productive lives – and that gets lost among those who feel the “anti-aging movement” is futile.
But, what also gets lost is making the most of the here and now with health and life we do have. That’s what William Wallace seems to alluding to with the words “not every man really lives”. Whatever time each may have, each should make sure to get the most from that time. My dad got the most out of his relatively short life and I’ve shared his story about living life to the fullest.
Adding Years to Life and Life to Years
We don’t have to sacrifice living longer for living better. We can both live longer, and we can live better. These are not mutually exclusive possibilities. And, you know what? We already know how. And, guess what? It’s not rocket science. And, it doesn’t take any new technology – just a return to the fundamentals of health.
Pareto’s Law and Lifestyle Medicine
Pareto’s law, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Pareto observed in Italy that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population. And, in business it’s not uncommon for 80% of the sales to come from 20% of the clients. The same is true in medicine. The sickest 20% of the population literally consumes 80% of the health care dollars. On the other hand, the healthiest 50% of the US population consumes only 3% of the health care dollars. So the improved quality of life, not to mention economic impact, from helping just a small number of ill people become healthier is enormous.
Diseases Do Not Cause Death
Can we identify just a few things that cause most deaths? The answer is “yes”. But, here’s what may surprise you. Diseases do not cause death. You don’t have to read that again. You read it right the first time. But, in case you’re not sure. Diseases do not cause death. We just think they do – it’s part of the noise of medicine. Diseases are effects – they are the result of something else. What causes diseases? Diseases are largely effects of our lifestyle.
Though there are genetic predispostions to disease that we each have, it is not a given that we will get those diseases. We now know that genes that might predispose us to disease can be turned on and off, or expressed or not. And, lifestyle is a switch that turns them on and off (probably not the only switch).
Dean Ornish, MD who showed that heart disease is reversible, has done the same with prostate cancer. He showed that genes related to prostate cancer respond to lifestyle changes. His team showed that 453 cancer promoter genes were down-regulated and 48 cancer suppressor genes were up-regulated in response to lifestyle changes. This means it is possible to stop and reverse prostate cancer once it starts. And, the same is likely true for other cancers.
So, if diseases don’t cause death, what are the actual causes of death?
Actual Causes of Death: the Few, the Proud
Since 1993 there have been study after study that have shown much the same. This article, this article, and this article all come to similar conclusions. This is just a sampling of the medical literature. It’s our lifestyle that is killing us. Many of the actual causes of death are well within our control.
Here are the top 10 actual causes of death.
- tobacco use
- poor diet
- inadequate physical activity
- microbial agents
- toxic agents
- sexual behavior
- motor vehicle accidents
- illicit drug use.
The Power of Lifestyle
Nearly all actual causes of death are related to lifestyle (entirely or partly). But, a vast majority of deaths are caused by the top three actual causes (Pareto’s law). Fix the top three and we can get eliminate 80% of heart disease, 90% of diabetes, and 60% of cancer – adding years to life and life to years. That’s how powerful lifestyle medicine can be. And, it doesn’t cost much to change those top three actual causes.
All of that disease can be avoided by simply not smoking, eating well (mainly consuming more fruits and vegetables), and being physically active. The challenge is making the lifestyle changes.
Change or die! Do you have what it takes to change your lifestyle? Or, would you rather die? The sad truth is 90% of us have do not have what it takes to change. Take control of your life and health. Don’t follow the majority. Follow the 10% crowd. Adapt a healthier lifestyle – and live longer and better!
Reference: Much of the content for this article came from a talk given by David Katz, MD titled A Holistic View of Anti-Aging: The Elephant in the Room presented at the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine’s 22nd World Congress on May 16, 2014.
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