DEAR DOCTOR K: Eat right. Don’t smoke. Stay active. Can you give me some motivation to keep up these healthy behaviors?
DEAR READER: I think I get your message. This column frequently presents information from scientific studies about healthy lifestyle. But information alone may not be enough to change behavior – and it’s hard to change behavior, particularly when you enjoy it. Information doesn’t equal motivation.
I’m not an expert on how to motivate people, but here’s how I motivate myself. I ask myself what I want from life. In terms of health, I want to live as long as possible, free of suffering and with my faculties intact. Then I’ll be able to love and be loved, and to enjoy the things I most enjoy, for as long as possible.
So the next question is: How do I get there? And I don’t mean how do I guarantee I’ll live a long life, free of suffering and decrepitude. Because there are no guarantees in life, only odds. I want to know what the odds are that I’ll achieve my goals, and what I can do to improve my odds.
How do I find out what my odds are, and how to improve them? I believe in science. I don’t believe any single scientific study is infallible, but I do believe that the collective information from many well-done studies is the best, and maybe the only, way I’ll ever learn what I need to know.
For example, in a recently published study, a research team followed nearly 17,000 men and women, age 17 years and older, for 18 years. They meticulously collected information on the lifestyle, the illnesses and the life or death of the study participants. In other words, they studied more than 300,000 years of human experience.
They compared study participants who ate a healthy diet, got enough physical activity, drank alcohol in moderation and never smoked to those who engaged in none of these healthy behaviors. The first group lived an average of 11 years longer.
There’s more good news. The same healthy lifestyle practices that cause you to live longer make those extra years healthier.
And you don’t have to banish all unhealthy practices from your life, always and forever. What matters is your usual behavior.
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