By Mike DuBose with Blake DuBose and Surb Guram, MD
Living 100 years—an entire century!—is a real possibility for many adults today. In a May 2013 Forbes article, Melanie Haiken cites studies by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Census Bureau, writing, “those over the age of 80 now make up the world’s fastest growing age group. In 2012, the number of Americans living to and past 100 years old rose to 100,000. By 2050, more than 800,000 people will be centenarians.”
Reasons for this longevity boost are many. America’s healthcare system is one of the best in the world, and mostAmericans have access to significant knowledge and resources to help extend their lives. Scientists are also entering new frontiers in medicine. They have discovered how to grow human organs in laboratories, and although more research is needed, recent animal studies suggest that the aging process could one day be slowed by altering genes.
But although Americans are generally living longer than their ancestors did, they still fall short compared to citizens of other developed nations. Americans live to an average of 78 years old. Compare this to Japan’s average life expectancy of 83 years, and it’s clear that people in the United States are not as healthy as their international peers.
Native Hawaiians (who often eat a diet similar to Japan’s) live the longest in the US, with a life expectancy exceeding 81 years, according to CDC data. South Carolina is one of unhealthiest places in the country, with an average life expectancy of 77 years (41st lowest out of the 50 states). South Carolina has one of the highest per capita occurrences of heart attacks and strokes in the US, according to CDC and American Heart Association reports.
Length of life isn’t the only concern. Amongst the growing numbers of centenarians are many people who will lose their mobility, their memory, or both before death finally arrives. We have personally seen many friends and relatives suffer miserably at the end of their lives because of bad choices they made earlier in life, mostly involving smoking, eating too much of the wrong foods, drinking alcohol excessively, exercising rarely, and being overly stressed for long periods of time. This has inspired us to study the most common causes of death and disability and identify factors that can protect against them. What we learned was stunning! In many cases, simple lifestyle adjustments can add length to and significantly improve the quality of one’s final years.
Genetics cause some of the diseases we encounter; the rest are decided mostly by lifestyle choices. As television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, reported, “Your genetics load the gun. Your lifestyle pulls the trigger.” One of the key findings of a 2012 Boston University School of Medicine longevity study of centenarians was that genetics “play a critical and complex role in facilitating exceptional longevity.” The study also found that centenarians (those who live to 100 years old or more) have the same genetic variants associated with increased risk for age-related diseases as the general population, but they also seem to have protective genes that extend their lifespans.
Digging through the literature on longevity and quality of life is challenging, with thousands of so-called “experts” and companies promoting their own diets, medicines, supplements, vitamins, and techniques. Americans, especially Baby Boomers, are eagerly searching for the fountain of youth, often in pill form. In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that Americans spend more than $34 billion on complementary and alternative medicine each year, and the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health reported that one in three American adults takes at least one dietary supplement each day. However, most supplements and vitamins have not been researched by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and some alternative healthcare solutions that are marketed as natural, beneficial, and scientifically-proven are actually harmful, disabling, and deadly!
Fortunately, studies have proved conclusively that adopting certain behaviors, like eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and exercising regularly, can significantly improve overall health and ward off many “super risks” that lead to deadly diseases. Taking these steps requires much more work than just popping a pill, but the time and effort invested pay dividends in health!
To help our readers strive for 100 enjoyable years, we will be presenting monthly articles on how to extend one’s life in a quality way. Our recommendations are based on reports from reliable medical organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as research papers or articles from scholarly journals and other reputable publications. To substantiate our suggestions, we particularly sought out long-range scientific studies involving thousands of people from prestigious organizations like Harvard University, the Mayo Clinic, the CDC, and the NIH.
We have also enlisted the help of Dr. Surb Guram, MD, one of the best medical diagnosticians in South Carolina, to bring a doctor’s viewpoint to this article series. He has been a great help in challenging our data, recommending resources, and ensuring that our suggestions mesh with those currently prescribed by medical professionals.
The bottom line: Former CDC head and current ABC News medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, MD put it quite simply in his bestseller Tell Me the Truth, Doctor: “There’s no secret formula to staying well. Health isn’t something given to you by a doctor. It doesn’t come in a medicine bottle. Health comes to you incrementally over time, and it leaves you in the same way. It happens through a series of choices we make dozens of times each day, choices about what you do and what you ignore.” It is clear, however, that many “super risk” factors cause the diseases most likely to disable or kill us, and some can be prevented.
Youth passes in the blink of an eye, and before you know it, you’re a semi-retired grandparent like Mike! Our genetics, health histories, risk factors, and current behaviors combine to determine how long and healthy our lives will be. The truth is, it takes work and consistent positive behaviors to put oneself on the path to a happy 100th birthday—there’s no “magic bullet.”
Beginning in January 2014, we will focus on one of the top ten killer diseases in the US each month, covering causes, symptoms, and prevention strategies for each. In this series, we will discuss some of the steps you can take to improve your health and enhance your possibility of a long, healthy life. Of course, all healthcare decisions should be thoroughly discussed with your doctor and there’s no guarantee that you will live to 100 years old, but it’s never too late to improve the quality of your golden years!
About the Authors: Our corporate and personal purpose is to “create opportunities to improve lives” by sharing our knowledge, experience, success, research, and mistakes.
Blake DuBose graduated from Newberry College School of Business and is president of DuBose Web Group. View our published articles at www.duboseweb.com.
Mike DuBose has been in business since 1981, authored The Art of Building a Great Business, and is a field instructor with USC’s graduate school. He is the owner of three debt-free corporations, including Columbia Conference Center, Research Associates, and The Evaluation Group. Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com.
Dr. Surb Guram, MD is a board-certified internist and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. He is a partner with the SC Internal Medicine Associates in Irmo, SC and has practiced internal medicine in the Midlands for the past 30 years. See www.scinternalmedicine.com for more information on Dr. Guram and his practice.
Katie Beck serves as Director of Communications for the DuBose family of companies. She graduated from the USC School of Journalism and Honors College.
© Copyright December 2, 2013 by Mike DuBose and Blake DuBose—All Rights Reserved. You have permission and we encourage you to forward the full article to friends or colleagues and/or distribute it as part of personal or professional use, providing that the authors are credited. However, no part of this article may be altered or published in any other manner without the written consent of the authors. If you would like written approval to post this information on an appropriate website or to publish this information, please contact Katie Beck at [email protected] and briefly explain how the article will be used and we will respond promptly.