Rollercoaster ride of longevity

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I turn on the TV. They say an electronic screen is the worst prescription in the world for insomnia, but for me, the soft TV voices murmuring in the background are soothing. It’s like being a kid in my room, drifting off to sleep to the sound of my parents quietly conversing in the living room.

To avoid commercials, I usually choose PBS. But last week WVIA was doing its fund drive, so I was force-fed house ads. In-between those pledge pitches and falling asleep, I learned an awful lot about improving my health.

Along with the music beloved of baby boomers, public broadcasting peppers its pledge weeks with lectures from doctors and nutritionists who specialize in aspects of longevity. This time I heard about how to boost my metabolism; massage pressure points to relieve pain; optimize my heart health and brain function; lose weight; deal with allergies; and quell stress, worry and anxiety. Those latter three scourges are a bigger factor in degenerative diseases than even smoking and obesity, according to the doctor who presented “The Healing Mind” program.

Unless you take notes (or buy all the books), it’s hard to remember all the good advice offered, especially when some of the medical professionals disagree with others (peanuts: healthy protein or hidden allergen?).

But we boomers are at the age when we need to get serious about health, diet and fitness. In your 20s and 30s, who thinks about aging and disease? That’s something for your parents to worry about. In your 50s and 60s, you are your parents.

Over the weekend I happened to see an article online about a hospital in northern England that’s refusing to do elective surgery on smokers and the obese. People with a BMI of 30 or more, along with anyone who smokes, must wait six months to a year for routine, non-life-threatening operations, though they can move up in line if they quit nicotine or lose 10 pounds.

The ban is a cost-cutting measure. But weirdly, I read another article the same day that showed how it’s actually the thin and fit who use up the most health care dollars.

A study in Holland found that smokers and obese people did consume health care resources when they were middle-aged. But because they died sooner than the healthy group, “it cost less to treat them in the long run,” the New York Times reported. Healthy people, by contrast, “live years longer” and the care they got in those extra years outweighed any earlier savings from staying fit.

In the Dutch study, the healthy lived till age 84, the obese till about 80 and the smokers to 77.

A friend who smokes once told me that she’d never give it up. Longevity wasn’t a goal. “I don’t want to live to 90 and have somebody changing my diaper,” she said.

The rest of us are still listening to PBS specials, hoping to find a way to grow older without growing iller.

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