Principles for Optimal Health

Many erroneously believe that inherited traits (genetic factors) are the primary factors determining their quality of life and how long they will live. For the vast majority of us, our health is primarily dependent on two other factors: (1) what we put into our bodies, and (2) what we do with our bodies. A simple word that encapsulates both of these concepts is "lifestyle." The good news is that even though we cannot change our genetics, we can change our lifestyle. Those lifestyle choices can prevent or forestall the development of diseases for which we are genetically predisposed. Regarding the most common diseases, Dr. Lamont Murdoch of Loma Linda University School of Medicine has put it aptly: "faulty genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger."

Just what are these lifestyle factors that will help us to live a longer life? Drs. Nedra Belloc and Lester Breslow were among the first researchers to present a convincing answer. In their classic study of nearly 7000 individuals living in Alameda County, California, they found that there were seven lifestyle factors that influenced how long people lived. These factors are listed:

Belloc & Breslow´s Seven Health Factors for Longevity
1. Sleep 7 to 8 hours
2. No eating between meals
3. Eat breakfast regularly
4. Maintain proper weight
5. Regular exercise
6. Moderate or no use of alcohol
7. No smoking

The number of these habits that an individual followed made a tremendous impact on their longevity. After nine years, the number of healthful lifestyle practices a person followed was directly related to the likelihood of dying. The results are depicted in figure. Notice that only about 5 percent of men and women who followed all seven health habits died in the nine year period, compared to 12.3 to 20 percent who followed three habits or less.

Another way of looking at the impact of lifestyle on longevity is by considering something referred to as "health age." As an example, a 50-year-old who embraces enough healthful lifestyle factors may have the same health or physiologic age as the average 35-year-old person. We could say that this individual has a "health age" of 35. On the other hand, another 50-year-old who had no regard for a healthful lifestyle may have a much older health age, perhaps as high as 72. In other words, a person´s health age can be lower or higher than the actual chronological age, depending on the number of lifestyle factors adopted.

Health age tables have been created from the Alameda County statistics. They cover the chronological age range from 20 years to 70, and are based on the same seven health habits listed above. One such table is depicted in figure.

You can use this figure as a guide to get a feel for your own health age. For example, assume that you are an average 40-year-old Alameda county resident. If you are following only two of the seven Belloc and Breslow´s health habits, your health age is 40 plus 19.4, or about 59, indicating a dramatic shortening of your life expectancy. You would have the same life expectancy as the average individual 19 years older. If you continue the same lifestyle for 10 more years, when you are 50 your health age will be 50 plus 22, or 72. At age 40, you had a 19-year health handicap, but at age 50, the handicap will even be worse by 3 years. In 10 years you will age 13 years!

On the other hand, if you, at 40, are consistently following all seven of Belloc and Breslow´s health habits, your health age is only 27 (40 minus 12.9). Furthermore, at age 50 your health age will be only 35. In 10 years, you will only age 8 years! The concept of health age illustrates how much our lifestyle can either hasten or slow the aging process.

For more informations see:
- Proof Positive by Neil Nedley