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Health Matters: Suggestions for New Year resolutions

December 29, 2022 Ciril Godec, MD
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In our last article, we discussed the three most important parameters of a lifestyle leading to healthy older age — nutrition, exercise and sleeping. Today we should talk about some other parameters that also play a significant role if we want to remain healthy to the end of a long life; in other words, to live longer and healthier. We will still die, we are not immortal. Some diseases, accidents and wars will still terminate our life. But older age alone should no longer be the cause of death.

Social interaction, having friends besides family, has biological value. It prolongs lifespan and decreases cognitive decline. Social isolation is associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia and also an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Social isolation has a similar risk on the longevity of your health as smoking, obesity or physical inactivity. Your doctor or nurse practitioner could connect you with many agencies in your community to help you to stay away from loneliness and reconnect with others.

Attitude, whether you’re a pessimist or optimist, matters. Optimists have a glass-half-full outlook — their telomeres are longer, they live longer and they less often have cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s). Two major studies, after setting controls for other health conditions like nutrition, sleep and exercise, have shown that optimists have a 15% longer longevity than pessimists. Optimists also handle stress better by choosing to pursue long-term goals rather than immediate rewards. Pessimists, on the other hand, generally have a shorter healthy lifespan, more depression and more cognitive decline. Also, pessimism weakens the immune system. 

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Spirituality, whether it is religion or meditation, is similarly significant. As part of religious services and community, you’ll have more social interaction when you belong to any religion. With meditation, there is increased activity in the hippocampus and amygdala, as seen on PET scans, with the growth of new brain cells. Also, there is increased production of neurotransmitters, especially dopamine and serotonin, which lead to a feeling of well-being. 

Hobbies also can increase longevity. Any hobby is healthy for you. If you Google it, you’ll find that the most brain-enhancing activity is ping-pong. It’s easy to learn how to play, and the table is not that expensive; the major consideration is finding a place large enough to put it! Playing a musical instrument can help to grow new brain cells. Hobbies, like writing and painting, are some other activities that promote the growth of brain cells. Indeed, the brain acts like a muscle: the more we use it, the stronger it gets.

Constant learning promotes the growth of our brain cells. Learning something new every day will not only contribute to your longevity but will keep you younger for longer. You can take courses in your community centers or via the Internet.

According to many researchers, the level of education  contributes to longevity. Individuals with college degrees not only have a higher income, but they also generally live longer and are healthier. So, if you want to live longer, educate yourself as much as you can. Some reports indicate that a higher IQ can also increase longevity. 

As you have noticed by now, your lifestyle really matters. When discussing how some friend got cancer or early cognitive decline, we sometimes hear, “It’s all in the genes; nothing can be done to prevent cancer or heart problems; my mother had it, my brother has it” — true in only about 15 percent. Indeed, we cannot change our genes, but with our lifestyle, we control our epigenome, which is responsible for which genes get activated and which get silenced. All the above parameters of our lifestyle are under our control. So, by paying attention to our lifestyle, we have, to a degree, some control over our destinies. 

Do we smoke or not? Are we eating too much and becoming overweight? Do we get out and socialize or not? Of course, we need some luck in life as well; car accidents will still happen, some cancers will still be with us and some murderers will still kill people. But, to a major degree, we can prevent many cancers and live longer. So, let’s do it. All of the above could be a part of your New Year’s resolutions. 

Happy New Year to you.

Dr. Ciril Godec is a Professor of Urology at Downstate Medical Center and was chairman of the Department of Urology at Long Island College Hospital for thirty years. He recently retired and is an honorary staff member at Maimonides Medical Center, where he served as Urology Residency Director and later Deputy Director of Urology since 2013. He is also a Board member at Cobble Hill Health Center.
Dr. Godec, who just celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday this past Valentine’s Day, is currently co-authoring his third book, “How to Declare Aging a Disease”.

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