Does Life Style Really Matter?
No doubt you would expect my answer to be a
resounding confirmation that lifestyle matters. But
really, how much difference does lifestyle make? As
it happens, a positive lifestyle can make an
astounding difference in how long you will live and
the quality of life you will enjoy over those years.
As you might expect, doctors are not the only
ones with an interest in lifestyle. Insurance
companies bet billions of dollars every year that
they can estimate your lifespan based on your
lifestyle. Considering the number of insurance
companies that are still making a profit, it’s safe to
assume they are getting it right most of the time.
Although the exact formulas used by insurance
are usually trade secrets, we can get a pretty good
estimate by looking at data from the sources
insurance companies get most of their information
from. As you might expect, much of the information
insurance companies use comes from Government
statistics and population studies that take place in
universities and medical research centers. From
this data, many consumer-friendly lifespan
calculators have been published. One typical life
expectancy calculator is the Healthy Life Expectancy
Calculator from the Goldenson Center at the
University of Connecticut.
Using the Healthy Life Expectancy Calculator it’s
easy to estimate the difference in lifespan and
quality of life. Consider the predicted outcomes for a
man, 70 years old with an excellent lifestyle vs. a
man the same age with a very poor lifestyle.
For a man 70 years old with excellent lifestyle
habits, he is predicted to have another 32 years of
good health followed by about 2 unhealthy years.
For a man 70 years old with very poor lifestyle
habits he is predicted to have about 3 more years of
good health followed by about 3 years of very poor
The difference of 29 healthy years between the
two lifestyles is quite a remarkable statement about
the advantages of lifestyle.
For a female 50 years old with excellent lifestyle
habits she might expect another 45 years of good
health followed by about 4 unhealthy years.
For a female 50 years old with very poor lifestyle
habits she might expect about 4 more years of good
health followed by about 9 years of very poor health.
For both of these examples, lifespan estimates
were calculated for the most optimistic and least
optimistic outcomes. While the lifestyle changes
required for the most optimistic outcomes may be
more than you will strive for, getting 80% of the
maximum health benefits lifestyle changes afforded
might be attainable with modest lifestyle changes.
For a female with excellent lifestyle habits at age
70, the future looks even better than at age 50. At
70, life expectancy is 102 healthy years followed by
2 years of poor health. Although women usually live
longer than men, for those in their 90s, lifespan
going forward is about the same for both.
If curious about where you can get the greatest
advantages from lifestyle changes, the Healthy Life
Expectancy Calculator offers insight. Keep in mind
that estimates of lifespan and quality of life are
largely based on population statistics and may not
be applicable for individual situations.
For another estimate, try the LifeSpan Calculator
from Northwestern Mutual. This calculator has a
tantalizing feature. As you answer the 14 lifestyle
questions, your estimated longevity is updated on a
scoreboard. You may find this scoreboard to be
motivational feedback about how lifestyle choices
and health factors impact how long you will live.
If you have tried the previous two calculators and
found the estimates different, know that all estimates
are based on assumptions. A difference of 10% to
20% is not unusual. In a situation of uncertainty,
often the best solution is a third expert opinion.
Then you have the choice of averaging the three
answers or perhaps discarding the outlier estimate
before averaging. If feeling optimistic, shoot for the
stars and be the shining example others can follow.
Our community and our country could use quite a
few more good examples. If leadership is your
calling know that the example you show is not only
the best way to lead, it’s the only way to lead.
So, if interested in a third opinion, try the
Longevity Calculator based on research from
Harvard Medical School’s study of centenarians. As
you answer questions, notice how the effects add to
or subtract from your final estimated lifespan.
While you can find many more calculators that
estimate lifespan based on lifestyle, I’ve chosen only
from the ones that allow you to perform calculations
without having to provide identifying information.
Dr. Valter Longo, author of “The Longevity Diet,”
provides a sensible guide for living longer with a
better quality of life. His research on fasting is
fascinating and encouraging for anyone seeking
new strategies to improve health and longevity.
What separates Dr. Valter Longo’s approach from
fads are Dr. Longo’s decades of research, his
commitment to peer review of his data, and a five-
pronged methodical approach for assessing the
value of data that the recommendations have been
There is so much joy in a healthy life. Granted
we can’t all enjoy the optimum but, for most, we can
far exceed our current situation. The key to health
and longevity is simple enough, change your
lifestyle and you can change your life. For a
kickstart, join me Saturday morning for a brisk walk
around the lakes. While mornings may still be cool,
have no fear. An extra sweater might be all the cool
weather insurance you need.
Nancy Neighbors, MD
Sweet Potato Vegan Kugel
This plant-based whole food kugel uses chia
seeds (or ground flaxseeds) in place of the eggs
found in traditional kugel. To create a wonderful
visual contrast, use purple sweet potatoes along
with yellow and orange varieties. (Note that sweet
potatoes are often labeled as “yams.”) Serve the
kugel with Tofu Sour Cream on the side.