Thursday, 15 December 2011

Live Longer—and have a Happy Life

In reality, I cannot guarantee either of these, tomorrow or even right now—as you are reading this you might be hit by a meteor or suffer some other fatal accident—however, in this blog post I will provide to you my condensed and distilled advice on how to have the greatest probability of living a long, healthy and happy life—baring accident or misfortune! 

Nothing here is rocket science, these ideas have been pieced together by me from many sources. Read, think, and modify your behaviour.

Social and political side note: 
The western world faces an ever growing health care burden. Much has been said about how to deal with this. The simplest and cheapest is to encourage people not to get sick. Humans have a maximum life expectancy of 125 or thereabouts. This assumes no genetic problems and no accidents, illness or disease. Only a handful of people will be able to reach this, but the advice given here will allow you to maximise your potential lifespan, and, more importantly, maximise your quality of life.

This is easy. Is there anything dumber than smoking? It kills you. Simple. You are paying good money to multi-national corporations to kill you. Kill you slowly, painfully, and at great medical cost. I could list all the medical conditions smoking causes, but why bother? You will have heard of them by now. Don’t smoke. If you do you are throwing your life away. You are setting a bad example for your children, your family, your friends. If you smoke you are dumb, stupid, a bad person, a bad citizen. If you smoke, and don’t stop, stop reading right here. Nothing will help you.

Don’t drink alcohol. None. Some people will say that drinking in moderation is good for your health. Take these claims with a grain of salt, and also put them into context. Many activities benefit your health (as you will soon see). Do these, not drinking. Alcohol is a toxic chemical. It will accelerate your ageing and screw you up in many ways—heart disease, cancer, immune system failure—and mental health. Keep you body and brain in shape, don’t drink. 
There are many alternatives to alcoholic drinks. Social occasions do not require alcohol to have an enjoyable time, rather the reverse. If you feel that you need booze to relax or to be happy, you need to seriously reconsider your life.

Sex is good for you. Sex reduces stress, generates good brain chemicals, boosts the immune system, and reduces the risk of heart attack. I could go on with this, but Sex Is Good For You. You get the idea.

Here is the big one. You cannot live for a day in the world and not hear or read about diet. There are books and advice aplenty. Arguably, diet is the basis of all other health advice. Eat well and you are 1/2 way there. 

Advice and tips:
Eat lots of fruit and veg, low fat meat (or no meat), unprocessed foods, avoid sugar. Try not to eat late at night. Avoid snacks, or if when you do, eat healthily. Avoid saturated fats, these are found in red meat and dairy products, eat monounsaturated fats, these are found in olive, peanut and canola oils. No soda drinks, ever, conversely, water, drink frequently. Herbs and spices, throw lots into your cooking: garlic, turmeric, chili--go wild, mix and match. Do not overeat.

A few good things. Green tea, excellent for your health, anti-oxidants and good for the brain.

Another biggee. Simple enough. Exercise is good for you. Exercise reduces your health risk, it increases your general health, energy levels, weight, sleep, immune system, and your longevity. The correct exercise regime for each of us varies depending on our health, age and other factors, but go for a mix, and look to change over time. Use weights, peddle a bike or a stepper—get that heart working. Three sessions a week of 45 minutes, getting your heart above 75% of its maximum, will be what you will need. 

How to exercise?
The simplest and most obvious is to hit the gym. Everything you need is there, and a gym membership is not that expensive. Take a look around, find a gym near your home or work and take it from there. Most gyms will offer you a few free visits to allow you to try out the place. Personal trainer? Some people swear by a personal trainer. They can help, certainly if you are starting from scratch. A trainer will help you develop good technique.

If you don’t want the gym, or you are away from home, there are exercises you can do with little or no equipment. Can you do 20 push-ups at a time, 20 situps, 50 star jumps? Try and do 100 repetitions every day. In addition, walk or peddle to work one day a week, take the stairs not the elevator, go for a long walk once a week, run along the beach, soak in some fresh air, and enjoy the scenery.

There are some who say that sleep is the best medicine, and they might be right. The exact amount each person needs each day varies, however, the figure lies between seven and eight hours. Try and get a good nights sleep every night, or as many nights as you can. When possible a nap in the afternoon is good, even half an hour or twenty minutes. An afternoon siesta lowers the risk of heart attack, and is good for your mental equilibrium.
If you have trouble sleeping—solve that trouble. There is no magic bullet for insomnia, but try these ideas: exercise (see above), no TV, computer or electronic gadgets before bed, no snacking before bed, no work before bed. These are simple suggestions, if they do not work do some research, find the cause and create a solution.

Reading is the all around to do activity. It is good in every way. It opens to the reader new worlds of experience, knowledge and wonder. It exercises your brain, it makes you a better person. Read for entertainment, read for knowledge, read to challenge old ideas and to find new. Red different subjects, new subjects—each year find a new, unexplored topic and read a few books in that field. Know nothing about geology? Start this year.
Consider joining a book club, local or an online club. A club will introduce you to new books, authors, and viewpoints. Think about ebooks rather than paper books. Ebooks are more convenient, consume no space, and there is a huge number of public domain great books awaiting your reading pleasure. Pick up a book today.

Keep a journal, a diary, a list of your travels, create a blog. Write something. Writing is the compliment to reading. It exercises your mind, your creativity, and your tenacity. The act of writing demands concentration, a knowledge of the English language (or your own language) and persistence. Tell the world your story.

Read about your health
Stay up to date with health advice. There is always something extra you can discover, some small piece of good advice that will help you—some small thing to do or to not do. Read good magazines, science journals, talk to knowledgeable people, however, be critical in your acquisition of new knowledge. Have an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out. Avoid fads, question bold claims, seek proof. 

Be Generous
By helping others you help yourself, literally and directly. Giving to others makes you feel better. Altruism boosts your self-confidence, and your sense of self-worth. Humans are social animals, we evolved as community creatures, a sense of returning something to the community that we are part of makes us better people.
Consider donating part of your salary to a variety of worthy causes. I will not list any here, each person’s interests vary, but I suggest a mix of groups, and at least one international. If a monetary donation is not possible then time. Each week or each fortnight spend some time working for a non-profit. You will find it an enjoyable passtime.

Mental exercises. 
Keep your brain active. Essentially—use it or loose it. If you work your brain, keep it exercised and challenged, you will remain mentally healthy for your entire life. If you do not then your brain will shrink to nothing and you will be one more fat, dumbbell, mumbling into their porridge. 
Some mental exercises you can do to keep sharp:
-Play brain teasers. Your choice, there are lots out there.
-Occasionally, use your opposing hand (if you are right handed, use your left hand, and vice versa).
-Break habits, try new ways to do old things—stop using the spell checker, think about that word!
-Do things the hard way, every now and then.
-Don’t look a forgotten fact up, concentrate and force your mind to remember. Put aside for now and stop, concentrate, and dredge that movie name from the recesses of your memory.
-Learn a musical instrument. Even if you are no good, it will stretch those grey cells.
You get the idea, new things, new ways, new challenges. Break out of that comfort space.

This covers a multitude of sins. Wash your hands, carry a small vial of alcohol hand wash. Use it. Far more people die from contaminated meals then are ever killed by lions or tigers (and I am not referring to Apple operating systems), but which do we fear? Our fears are not rational, they were crafted in our brains by evolution on the savannah of Africa. We don’t live there any more. Some people realise this, some don’t.
Bath/shower regularly, clean your clothes, brush your teeth: bacteria = cavities = pain = heart disease. Brush after every meal and floss once a day. 

This could be considered part of mental health, but I feel that hobbies deserve their own listing. They can be and should be an important part of our lives. Most people allow their work and family to dominate their existence, however, for our mental well being we all of us need an escape. Hobbies are that escape. They expose us to new environments, new people, new social networks, and new skills. They stretch our brain and give us a distinct outlook on life. They make us happier, healthier and more knowledgeable. 
Your hobby does not have to be radical or expensive. Anything from photography to coin collecting to nature walking is good. There are many alternatives, find one. And have fun.

Avoid injuries
Is this too simple? No one will die from a terrorist attack, no one will die from a giant meteor whacking the Earth, no one will be shot in a bank holdup—but these are the terrors we fear, or are at least taught to fear. The reality is that more people die in the home than anywhere else, and these folk die of silly accidents: chocking on a hot dog, slipping in the bathtub, falling asleep while smoking (smoking again). It is the seemingly trivial, silly things, which kill most people. I could populate this post with stats, but that is not the point. 

So, what to do? Thinking is a good start. Minimise the risk by exercising good sense and prevention.
Driving, don’t drive while tired or under the influence (drink again)—if your life does not concern you, think of the other people you might kill. Wear sunglasses—UV kills your eyes. Non-slip bath mats. Buy a new ladder. Put on a hat and sunscreen. Install a safety circuit in your meter box. Have a fire extinguisher in the house. Wear appropriate safety gear when performing potentially dangerous activities. And so forth. Think.

The Social side of Life
This covers several related activities. The essence of all of these is to lead an interesting and fulfilled life. To do this lets start with humour.

Humour is the best medicine, so some say, and they are at least partly correct. Stay happy, tell a few jokes, hear a few, and laugh. Laughter will boost your immune system, demolish stress, push away depression, and make your feel better. Don’t take life too seriously. Laugh a little.

Friends. A circle of friends is of great benefit in many ways. We are social animals, we must interact to be fully happy and well. Cultivate around you good people, interesting people, people to both complement and challenge your ideas and thinking. Find worthwhile people outside your work and family, these will provide a different focus for your life and actions, and make your short existence better. 

Travel—the last piece of advice—travel. Travel when you can, either around your town or around the world. Get off the beaten track, and don’t stay in the hotel or resort, get out and meet people—get ripped off, taken to the wrong destination, get lost. Consider all of these vicissitudes a great education in people and a means to hone your survival skills. New environments, new challenges, new languages are all means to expand your mind and make you think new thoughts, to give you a new perspective on your life and society. Break out of the comfort zone. Book a flight tomorrow.

In conclusion
It is easy to give advice, slightly harder to write advice, but it is very difficult to take advice. It is your life, live it how you will, but if you cannot take the time, trouble, nor have the character to change yourself for the better, at least acknowledge the consequences. An unhealthy life means that you will be a burden on society, the health care system, and the people around you. It means that you will have a short life and a low quality life. Think about this reality.