Dr. W. Gifford-Jones: Nine factors give indication of chance for a long life

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones

What’s the chance of living to 85 years and beyond?

Dr. Bradley J. Wilcox is the lead author of a longevity study carried out by the Pacific Health Research Institute in Hawaii. It’s one of the longest studies on aging and it followed the health of 5,820 Japanese-American men for 40 years. At the start of the study the average age of the men was 45 and they were all healthy. What happened to them depended on nine key factors. You can calculate your longevity with this simple arithmetic.

• One: What’s your grip strength? Grip strength is measured by how hard you can grasp an object. The next time you squeeze a lemon, estimate your strength. If your grip strength is strong it’s a good indication that your body is physically robust for the long haul. Stronger built cars last longer and so do physically fit humans.

• Two: Avoid obesity. Today this issue should be a no-brainer for everyone. I’ve written for years that excessive weight is the No. 1 killer. No one needs a Hawaiian study to drive home the fact that obesity sets the stage for diabetes, heart attack, hypertension, surgical complications and a host of other degenerative problems.

• Three: Normal blood pressure is a good indicator of a long life. Or as Sir William Osler, one of Canada’s greatest physicians, remarked, “It’s best to have good rubber.” In other words, soft pliable arteries are less likely to cause hypertension than rigid ones. Too much pressure in a tire triggers a blowout. Excessive pressure in arteries increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. To avoid the silent killer of high blood pressure be sure to get regular checkup examinations.

• Four: Avoid hyperglycemia, which means having excessive amounts of sugar in the blood. We all have temporary increases after a meal. But consuming too many calories of all kinds eventually leads to obesity and all too often to diabetes. Today half of those suffering from diabetes die of a heart attack. Others succumb to kidney failure, blindness or lose a leg. Buy a scale and step on it every day. It’s a major public health tragedy that every 45 seconds a new case of diabetes is diagnosed in North America.

• Five: Don’t smoke; another no-brainer that hardly deserves mention if it weren’t for the fact that so many people still smoke. Surely we all know now that this addiction is associated with lung cancer and chronic lung disease. Years ago a renowned Oxford study showed that those who start smoking early in life cut their life short by 20 years.

• Six: Thank goodness this Hawaiian report didn’t damn alcohol, just excessive consumption. I’ve always believed studies that show those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol live longer than either teetotalers or those who drink excessively. Too much alcohol becomes a huge problem resulting in needless deaths from highway accidents, cirrhosis and some cancers.

• Seven: Sharing your life with a partner increases longevity. The study did not mention it, but I assume this means a happy partnership, otherwise the reverse might be true. Socrates counseled that “a good wife makes you happy and a bad one makes you a philosopher.” Or as Groucho Marx remarked, “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.”

• Eight: Normal levels of triglycerides, one of the blood fats, help to pave the way to longevity. A blood test will determine this for you.

• Nine: Participants in the study who had a higher education level lived longer. This is another point that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Good sense dictates that those who are better educated are more inclined to follow a healthy lifestyle.

What was the final result of this study? Participants who passed all nine factors had a 69 percent chance of living to age 85. But for those who failed on six or more, only 22 percent had a chance of reaching this age. So how did you score?

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Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is actually Dr. Ken Walker, a practicing physician in Toronto who writes many columns at his Bristol Harbour, N.Y. residence.