House Calls: How long will you live? It is partly up to you

By Christopher B. Cutter February 12, 2014 01:44 pm

House Calls runs every two weeks. Today’s column is written by Christopher B. Cutter, a physician at Sutter Coast Community Clinic.

I found myself on the Internet looking at life expectancy tables the other day. I followed that up by going to a few of the on-line questionnaires that anyone can sit down with and use. The results are pretty darn interesting.

These quizzes all ask pretty much the same thing. They have a list of basic questions about your age, height and weight. They then ask you the questions about the things you cannot control — the medical history of your parents and siblings (not your aunts, uncles and cousins — they really don’t figure in much).

Then they ask the other obvious stuff — smoking, drinking, drugs, exercise and food choices. Next are the questions about things that you may not think about — your education, your job, your income and marital status. A big factor, it turns out, is your dental care — or lack thereof.

 

House Calls runs every two weeks. Today’s column is written by Christopher B. Cutter, a physician at Sutter Coast Community Clinic.

I found myself on the Internet looking at life expectancy tables the other day. I followed that up by going to a few of the on-line questionnaires that anyone can sit down with and use. The results are pretty darn interesting.

These quizzes all ask pretty much the same thing. They have a list of basic questions about your age, height and weight. They then ask you the questions about the things you cannot control — the medical history of your parents and siblings (not your aunts, uncles and cousins — they really don’t figure in much).

Then they ask the other obvious stuff — smoking, drinking, drugs, exercise and food choices. Next are the questions about things that you may not think about — your education, your job, your income and marital status. A big factor, it turns out, is your dental care — or lack thereof.

Driving history, both amount and quality, is real important also. Another big factor is how you rate yourself on your own health — awesome or weak? Some of these surveys ask about depression or spiritual condition, and most ask if you go in for regular doctor visits. 

The good news is that a 35-year-old male who is doing all the right things can plan on living a long time — easily to age 90. But only if he makes the right choices. But let’s take a look at how some bad choices affect his life! 

If he starts smoking he loses eight years. If he becomes a heavy drinker he loses seven years. If he stops exercising he loses five years. If he does not get regular doctor check-ups he loses six years. If he doesn’t take care of his teeth (brushing and flossing )he loses seven years.

If he has a low-paying job or a poor education he loses seven years. If he eats poor-quality food he loses six years.

If he decides to do recreational drugs, he loses nine years. If he gets two DUIs he loses 13 years. If he simply is an aggressive driver, he loses six years. And if he rates his health and energy low he loses six years.

By the way, if he was cursed with parents who did not live until age 55, he can more than make up for that by brushing his teeth twice a day. That factor only costs you 4 years. 

How reliable are these statistics? Very! The multi-billion-dollar insurance companies bank on these stats every single day and are seldom wrong. 

So even though the popular media would have you thinking that there are hundreds of confounding, confusing, and expensive things that you must do to stay healthy, the answer is you really just have to start with the basics. You can start by doing what your kindergarten teacher and parents told you to do:

Eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, go to school, go out and play, be safe, get a job, find a great wife or partner, sleep well, and don’t do drugs or smoke. Oh yeah, and say your prayers.

I am fortunate to be able to care for a number of very elderly patients here in Del Norte County. Many times they will offer up important bits of advice on how they made it into their 80s and 90s. Not one of them smoked after the surgeon general advised against in the 1960s. None drinks excessively. Most are extremely happy, and grateful people who act like each day is a gift to be cherished.

All of them were married most of their lives. All had jobs and careers that they felt were rewarding and satisfying (and yes that includes the professional homemakers!). Most of them are very busy people still — like the “grandmothers” who are at the kindergartens every day making sure no child goes unloved or unattended. When I grow up I want to be like them!