Monday, July 2, 2012

Longing for Longevity

If you had to rank the following activities in order of preference, what would your choices be?

___Floss your teeth every night.


___Get a colonoscopy.

___Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.

___Go on vacation.

Now, if you had to guess what all of the above have in common, what would you say?

Give up? Believe it or not, the answer is that each of them can prolong your life.

You probably already know about the standard lifespan enhancers: Watch what you eat. Workout. Schedule regular checkups, routine tests, and immunizations. And if you smoke, quit. Sure, these sorts of efforts are 100% fundamental... but they're 0% fun. They're not the kind of things anyone would long for. That's what I wanted to explore. Was there any way we could put the "long" in longevity? I was happy to find that scientific studies tell us of at least three ways.

An article on the Psychology Today website by Dr. Wednesday Martin summarized research on vacationing and concluded, "skipping vacation can actually put your physical, mental, and fiscal health at risk." (Woo Hoo!! Caribbean here I come!) The article cited numerous studies, including the Framingham Heart Study and quoted University of Pittsburgh researcher Karen Matthews on the clear link between vacation and longevity: "The more frequent the vacations, the longer the men lived." The article also referenced a follow up study done by the State University of New York at Oswego that produced specific numbers: Men who go on vacations annually lessen their overall risk of death by an astonishing 20% and their risk of dying from heart from heart disease by 30%!

The next life-prolonger I discovered really shocked me. Did you know that flossing your teeth can put an extra 6.4 years on your lifespan? That's what Dr. Michael Roizen says in his book, The RealAge Makeover. Look at what a deal that is: Floss one minute a night and get maybe six more years of life. That's an incredible return on investment and the kind of bargain I'd take any day. I love a good bargain. A good bargain excites me. So I guess you could say I long for good bargains and when I find one, it can really motivate me. For years my dentist had been telling me to floss my teeth but frankly, I couldn't be bothered. That was until I came across studies that showed what an impact good oral care can have on longevity. I've been flossing religiously every night ever since. I no longer look at dental floss as a pesky little string. I now behold it as "The Fountain of Tooth." Isn't it interesting how a single bit of information... how viewing something in a new light can change your behavior overnight?

Last in the line of my favorite life-prolongers is a trifecta of treats: Eat. Play. Laugh. I was delighted to discover that dark chocolate and red wine are associated with longevity. And that a Swedish study found people who play golf live longer because they spend more time outdoors. And that research from Norway shows laughter can extend the lifespan. Who wouldn't long for all that? So here's my prescription for adding years: Book plenty of vacations with loved ones who make you laugh. Or if funny bones don't run in your family, catch a couple of comedies at the movie theater while you're away. Play golf during your trip or simply spend some time outdoors while you're savoring a daily dark chocolate bon-bon and sipping some red wine. And of course, don't forget to pack plenty of dental floss so you can add even more years to your life while you're adding years to your life.

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