According the the Harvard School of Public Health, beginning in the year 2015, 12,000 people a day will start turning 65.We are aging differently than previous generations, however. Physically and mentally, the health of today’s 70-year-old now equals that of a 65-year old in the 1970’s. In that period, deaths from heart disease and many cancers have dipped. And while most older adults have at least one chronic health problem, disability has slowly and significantly declined. It is interesting to note, that the United States has been slipping in its longevity ratings compared to other countries. Israel, on the other hand has been climbing.
When the numbers are added up more carefully, though, there are obvious differences
between men and women and people of different races. A newborn boy born in 2004 or after can expect to live a bit more than 75 years, while his sister can expect to live to slightly more than 80. As you grow older, your average life expectancy stretches. For example, while the life expectancy of a newborn in the United States is nearly
78, a 65-year-old can expect to live 19 years longer, and a 75-year-old for another 12 years. What is just as important as Long Life, is the L’chaim part of it—living life and how to maintain not only longevity but quality of life until 120.
Why did life expectancy increase so much in the 20th century in developed nations? Whether individuals develop a particular disease is usually determined by three things: their lifestyle (including diet and exercise), their environment (such as exposure to infectious microbes or toxins), and their genes. Increased life span surely has nothing
to do with genes: our genes today are the same as they were a century ago. Instead, changes in lifestyle and environment are responsible. Changes in the environment—such as better sanitation, the use of antibiotics, and many other improvements in medical care—can claim much of the credit. As for lifestyle, in developed nations, nutritional deficiency diseases largely were eliminated in the last century. Still, not all nutritional
changes have been entirely for the better. In the United States, at the turn of the 20th century, most Americans lived on farms or in rural communities. We ate fresh, unprocessed food every day, and we worked hard physically. Today, our diets are less
healthful in many ways, and we exercise less.
The doctors can definitely help us live longer with all of the great advancement in medical care and medicines that we have today. But there is so much that we can do that will extend and enhance our lives. And we all understand the value of every second of life. So it is incumbent upon us to take our wellbeing into our own hands. The Be’er HaGolah at the very end of Choshen Mishpat tells us there is not bigger Hefkerus than not taking care of one’s self and the Rambam in Hilchos Daos 4:1, 14 writes very clearly: “Because for the body to be healthy and wholesome is among the ways of Hashem… therefore a person must distance himself from those things that cause his body damage… And they stated another rule relating to the health of the body: As long as a person engages in physical activity (= exercise) and works hard… no illness will attack him and his strength will increase.”
So what are some practical measures we can take to both extend life and be able to server the Ribono Shel Olam well during that time? Again, Harvard Medical School gives us some practical tips to do to the best of our ability:
1. Don’t smoke.
2. Include physical and mental activities into daily life.
3. Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and substitute healthier
monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats for unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats.
4. Take a daily multivitamin, and be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D.
5. Maintain a healthy weight and body shape.
6. Challenge your mind.
7. Build a strong social network.
8. Protect your sight, hearing, and general health by following preventive care guidelines.
9. Floss, brush, and see a dentist regularly. Poor oral health may have many repercussions, including poor nutrition, unnecessary pain, and possibly even a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
10. Discuss with your doctor whether you need any medication—perhaps to control high blood pressure, treat osteoporosis, or lower cholesterol—to help you stay healthy.
Most of your health and longevity is in your hands. Hashem has given us all the tools at our disposal in order to maintain health. Let’s use them. Be active, exercise, eat right, stay positive, manage and reduce stress. Following these tips can “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”