David's Get Real Series: The Secret of Life

Finding Your Luck

As a geriatrician with 40 years of experience, I have seen many people live a healthy and long life. With great pride, I celebrated one hundredth birthdays with at least two dozen patients during my career.

Some of my patients followed all the rules, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and they enjoyed great health spans. Some followed the best advice available and met untimely deaths.

Still others smoked, drank too much, and ate unhealthy foods and despite their unhealthy habits, they still lived long lives. Go figure.

The Secret of Life

So what is the secret to a long life? Is it luck? Or is there something else that we can do to increase our chances of living a long and healthy life?

I have been thinking a lot about this subject now that I am not consumed by the life I led as a practicing physician.

I believe that there is an element of luck involved in living a long life. Some people, maybe 15-30% of the population are simply born with genes that make them more likely to live a long life. Their parents passed along those long-life genes.

Others are lucky and smart enough to avoid serious illness or injury.

I also believe that there are things we can do to increase our chances of living a long and healthy life as I have espoused in my Power of 5 formula. Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are still other factors that enhance our likelihood of longevity.

Create Your Own Luck

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being in the right place at the right time. Luck might seem to play a major role in the stern advice I have given to my patients. It may seem obvious but long life is more achievable by avoiding risks such as:

  • Smoking – ask for help to stop
  • Substance use disorder – seek treatment when identified
  • Driving under the influence of any substance that affects one’s level of alertness
  • Climbing on ladders and going on one’s roof after the arbitrary age of 65
  • Being out driving after 11 p.m.—the rate of MVA increases along with mortality rates
  • Considering the high death rate associated with motorcycle crashes, avoid them and you live longer
  • Following safety instructions provided for firearms use
  • Accepting vaccination recommendations provided by the medical community
  • Living in a peaceful, low pollution environment

What I have been observing lately is it’s not just about taking care of our bodies, it’s also about finding our place in the world and contributing. I observed this firsthand and made it my first component in my GRACE formula: G standing for Goals/purpose.

When we feel like we are part of something larger than ourselves, it gives us a sense of purpose and meaning. Finding one’s purpose in life can have a big impact on our health and wellbeing.

I have seen this firsthand in my work with older adults and was especially inspired by a group of my patients who were retired ministers and leaders in their movement. Many lived well beyond what I could ever predict based on their medical conditions. They had purpose in their lives, gave back to society, and maintained close connections with their ministry community.

So if you want to live a long and healthy life, focus on taking care of your body, your brain, your spirit, and finding your G, your place in the world. Remember, luck is always a factor, but if you do your part, you’ll be well on your way to living a long and happy life.

To a long and healthy life,

David Bernstein, MD

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