Wednesday, March 6, 2013

#BargainNinja: That's Not My Granddaddy's Bucket of Lard!

I have frequently posed the mostly unscientific question of how did my great-grandfather who on a daily basis probably consumed very high calorie, fat, and carbohydrate meals (some featuring foods cooked in lard) not only not die of a heart attack, stroke, or complications from diabetes, but live into his 90s to pass away peacefully with a hale mind and body.  The usual response is that: well back in those days they lived a simpler life and worked 16-hour days.  To a degree this makes a great deal of sense, although I would question how did working 16-hour days, in the conditions he did, for most of his life not destroy his physical body.  The truth of the matter is he beat the life expectancy of someone born circa the turn of the century by almost 6 decades.  In fact, he beat the life expectancy a child born in the last 10 years by more than 2 decades.

Saturated fats, Hydrogenated fatty-acids, BHA, and propyl gallate are all known carcinogens and/or contributors to obesity and coronary disease.  Definitely not my great-grandfather's tub o' lard.

In actuality the life expectancy for someone like him has risen 115%, since the era in which he was born.  If you reason that a marked shifting (for the better) in dietary habits has occurred in the last 20-25 years, you could also theorize that the rate at which the life expectancy has increased would have responded by beginning to rise sharply.  However, it has not.  From 1900-1981 the average net increase of life expectancy was 1.26% per year.  This rate no doubt was influenced by many factors including, but not limited to: societal climate, environment, occupational trends, economic trends, crime, periods of war/peace, advances in medicine and other technological  educational opportunities, and general increase in knowledge.  In contrast from 1990-2004 life expectancy has improved by a rate of only 0.3% per year.

This begs the very scientific question:  what the ham sandwich man?!  No doubt advances in science, technology, and healthcare of the early to mid-twentieth century helped.  And of course, migrating from the south to the north and the Civil Rights Movement significantly improved the life outlook of black males, as when you compare the same data for white males the early century increase was much less dramatic (+0.65% per year) and the latter day increase is actually greater (+0.04% per year).  Nevertheless, why has the improvement in life expectancy tapered off so sharply?  Has science and technology stagnated?  Are we not dieting and exercising hardcore enough?  Or is there something more nefarious afoot?

I checked my life expectancy, and it was an abysmal 56.69 years.  I'm on a diet of water and food that tastes like dirt and I am to die before I am 60, that's just peachy.  In fact, if I were to give up all sexual activity, stop driving, and start drinking again I could increase my life expectancy my a whopping 3.35 years.  A lifetime of boredom and drinking alone for 3.35 extra years of life -- that's a tough call.  What other factors would improve my chances?  If I mitigated teh stressors in my life, did more conditioning exercise, ate a more balanced diet, and got a good 7 hours of solid, restful sleep per night I could potentially live to see 70.  While it is well shy (by 5 years) of the best life expectancy, I would have just barely beaten (by 1 year) the average for males life myself born in the same year as me.

My maternal grandfather died in his 70s and my father's father died in his 60s, of cardiac arrest caused by kidney failure and massive heart attack respectively.  They were decades short of the mark for longevity set by their fathers.  To my mother's father's credit he had been on a decades long journey of health and wellness that included: not drinking, not smoking, and a low sodium diet.  He retired back to his childhood home, lived a simple agrarian life and walked about a mile or so every day.  My other grandfather, did not and failings of the inept medical establishment that allowed my maternal grandfather to develop such a serious condition unnoticed, those decisions he made no doubt gave him the extra years my dad's dad did not get.  There are similar decisions we can make to improve our chances as well:

  • Move - The vast majority of us have sedentary jobs and lead sedentary lives.  Moving enough to elevate your heart rate for 20 minutes per day can significantly improve your health and wellness.  Working up to an intense workout 3-5 times per week that includes calorie-burning by getting to your target heart rate for at least 15 minutes and muscle conditioning, well add years to your life.
  • Simplify - Stress is critical to the function of the body, and survival; but bad stress, especially when left unchecked, is a killer.  Cut out the unnecessary things or people in your life that induce this bad stress.  When unavoidable stressors like death, unemployment, or illness occur: be balanced in what you take upon yourself, recognize your signs of not coping well, and get help -- professional if needed.
  • Detoxify - Our world is much more polluted than our great-grandparents'.  Air pollution, water pollution, chemicals in our food, electromagnetic radiation (EMR), and tons of free-radicals bombard us from all sides.  Buying certified organic food, consuming more antioxidants (i.e. Vitamins A, C, E), purifying your water, and reducing your exposure to EMR (Cellular devices, Wi-Fi, relevision, radio, computer screens, microwaves, etc.) could all provide dramatic boosts to your health, wellness, and longevity.
  • Just Say: "No!" - Give yourself a real chance, say no to tobacco products, excessive drinking, the extra piece of cake, unnecessary drugs of any kind, and reckless behavior.  Whatever does not kill you immediately will gang up on you later in life to take you out long before your time.
Source: American Cancer Society

The truth is our lifestyle is killing us.  Science and technology are making strides in the quest to extend quality years of life and one day eradicate illness and death.  However, those efforts are stymied by what we do as individuals and a society  We need to get that life expectancy average climbing sharply again.  In order to do that we are going to have to make some personal commitments and social changes.  We have to put the kibosh on environmental pollution of all sources and start living simpler, more natural, and more active lives less saturated with technology.  In so doing we will create a society of individuals who remain vital and strong longer.  This is important not simply because vital, strong people live longer, but more importantly because vital, strong people advance civilization and lay the foundation for vital, strong, and long-lasting societies.

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