Great health requires three nearly equal components: (1) Genetics and luck, (2) a healthy lifestyle, and (3) good preventive medical care. You control two and half of these.
- Genetics and luck.
Genetics and luck — for both good and bad — account for no more than a third of our health. And, here's the control part: knowing your family history (the single best and cheapest genetic test around) can lead us to take steps to prevent, stop, or reverse the health effect of the genetic dice. For example, if your father and two paternal uncles had heart attacks in their early 50s, you know you are at risk. But you can use that knowledge to aggressively manage your cardiac risk factors and prevent or even stop your own heart attack.
- A healthy lifestyle.
Many people make the serious mistake of underestimating the tremendous benefit of a healthy lifestyle. Walking two miles a day can lower your risk of a heart attack by 30 percent, eating a Mediterranean diet can lower your risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, and doing both can lower your risk of type-2 diabetes by 50 percent, and not smoking can lower your risk of lung cancer by 90 percent. Big pharma does not have any pills more powerful than a healthy lifestyle.
- Preventive medical care.
Prevention is very powerful medicine. Primary prevention works to prevent disease by treating risk factors (treating high blood pressure lowers the risks of stroke) while secondary prevention works to prevent the complications after a disease has already been diagnosed (aggressively lowering cholesterols to prevent a second heart attack).
Unfortunately, our medical system gives short shrift to good primary prevention — a physician and hospital earn more money putting in cardiac stents than in telling people to take their statins, let alone telling people to take a brisk two-mile walk.
But you know the value of asking about your family history, the tremendous benefit of a brisk walk every day, and the advantage of taking your blood pressure pills every single day. You know you want to be a healthy, active, and vibrant 85-year old.