Talk to any health professional about the major causes of disease and you will find a relatively short list of habits that contribute to the vast majority of critical diseases. If you do any of the following, change your lifestyle to eliminate them so you can avoid a lot of pain in the future. I worked in hospitals for years and saw people die of many diseases. Most were painful. Some of the diseases that are in the forefront of our social consciousness now can involve losing our mental capability. Most of the people I have talked to in my life, when asked about how they would want to die, said they would want to go quietly in their sleep. Shouldn’t we then prepare ourselves for that situation? Yes, we all die sometime but dying in pain that lasts much too long is not the way I want to go.
Following are the habits to change:
It is common knowledge that smoking is bad for your health and is a cause of cancer and heart disease. It is at the top of the list as the greatest hazard to normal health. According to the American Cancer Society, “Many cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy choices like not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, eating right, keeping active, and getting recommended screening tests. ” To see the part it plays in heart disease, check out the American Heart Association . It plays a major part in aging. Even if the smoker does not die of cancer or heart disease, smoking makes you look older by causing wrinkles . It limits activity by compromising the proper breathing due to literally destroying the lungs. If you are not terribly old and are smoking, think about the near future when you are (more) wrinkled and you are struggling to walk while dragging your oxygen tank.
Unhealthy Eating (We will talk about how to avoid these problems in the page on Your Diet). The number of diseases caused by unhealthy eating probably can’t be fully enumerated. They range from starvation to choking on a food overload and from missing nutrients to the inclusion of toxins. There are many gradations and nutrient-specific diseases. Here the main problems will be mentioned although there will be one or more diseases that can be caused by the lack of any particular required nutrient.
Cardiovascular Disease – briefly this is a disease of the blood vessels, primarily arteries, mainly caused by atherosclerosis. Most everyone has heard about the plaque buildup in arteries that reduces the internal diameter of the artery and also decreases its flexibility. When an artery is nearly closed by the narrowing of the artery or if a clot breaks off and lodges in the wrong place, it can cause a heart attack (if in the blood supply to the heart, a stroke (if in the blood supply to the brain, or pulmonary embolism (if in the blood supply to the lungs). The clots can find other unhealthy places to call home but the three above can cause instant death or at least require drastic measures to control.
Type 2 Diabetes – This is the most common form of diabetes and occurs when the pancreas cannot regulate the production of insulin properly. The proper regulation of insulin production by the pancreas is essential. Not enough insulin in your body results in high blood sugar which can result in weakness, confusion, and coma . Not enough blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can cause blurred vision, confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness . And it can get worse.
Cancer - The American Cancer Society suggests eating a healthy diet and emphasizing plant food . You can download their guidelines. There are certain foods that have been shown to cause cancer. These will be addressed later on the Your Diet page.
Obesity - I think it is obvious that overeating can cause obesity which, in turn, can cause other problems. ‘Nuff said.
Obesity - The CDC gives the following risk factors for obesity . The Mayo clinic added GYN problems and ED . If for no other reason, why not lose weight for better sex? The results of obesity are numerous and should be a cause for concern for anyone who is overweight. I know there is a drive to have people be comfortable being overweight or a “plus size.” The web is awash in plus sized women showing off their bodies in two-piece bathing suits. I suppose that it is a good thing to promote self-esteem but it is flat unhealthy. Better to gain that self-esteem while losing the weight and the medical problems associated with it. Anyone can lose the weight given the resolve.
Sleep Apnea – This is a problem where breathing is not regular but stops and starts repeatedly. This can be a serious problem and, at the very least, you will not feel rested after sleeping.
Type 2 diabetes - This very serious condition was covered above.
Cardiovascular Disease – covered above. Remember that this area is the leading cause of death.
Hypertension – High blood pressure
Coronary Artery Disease
Gallbladder Disease – increases the risk of gallstones and cancer.
Cancer (especially endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver) – not pleasant.
Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint) - Think about how your joints, such as knees, have to support body weight. The stress on the joints is so much greater with the greater weight is has to carry. Think about the greater force placed on the knee. The equation for force is Force = Mass * Acceleration. Accidentally stepping off a curb is a good example. Your knee will bend and there will be an acceleration down towards the pavement. If you weigh twice your normal weight, the force will be twice normal and you are at that much greater risk of a knee injury. Just walking will cause twice the normal force on your joints. They will wear out. In addition, excessive fat may cause excessive inflammation of the joints.
GYN problems – these include infertility, irregular periods, and labor problems.
Erectile Dysfunction and reduced libido. But I guess with the reduced libido you won’t care about the ED!
Other stuff – If the above wasn’t enough, add in lower quality of life, depression, anxiety, body pain, and difficulty in moving and keeping balance. This should be a no-brainer.
Lack of Physical Exercise - I remember when I was a kid and even into my 20s when I looked upon getting old as a time to sit in a rocking chair on a porch, watching the grass grow. Everyone I knew who were in their late 50s and older, were actually that person – or aspiring to it. Things have changed and can even change to have a more exciting, healthy, and longer “old age.”
I’m not going to cite many sources for this because we are constantly hearing that diet and exercise keeps us healthy. Suffice it to say, not exercising can lead to or at least exacerbate arthritis, obesity, cardiovascular disease and others. On the other hand, exercise can help in the healing process of many diseases. Let’s take cancer, for example. It was found that women who were relatively inactive prior to cancer treatment had a lowered mortality risk when engaging in moderate to vigorous exercise after diagnosis . In addition, increased exercise decreased the level of depression in patients with clinical levels of depression due to their cancer condition . Similar findings are reported for other diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Without even considering disease, there is certainly a better quality of life for people who are more fit and more active.
Alcohol Consumption - It seems obvious what kind of dangers exist for those who consume too much alcohol. Of course, most people who drink will say, “I don’t’ drink nearly as much as so-and-so,” therefore perhaps not being very objective about how much is too much for themselves. If a person drinks too much there are many potential problems. Most everyone knows about liver damage from drinking too much. That can be a death sentence. Heavy drinking, according to the NIH , is also a factor contributing to heart disease, other liver damage, pancreatitis, and cancer. There are also short-term issues that put ME in danger due to mental impairment and loss of physical dexterity, especially of someone behind the wheel. If you want to drink yourself to death, at least walk so the rest of us are safer. We should also consider WHY someone wants to drink heavily. It is often an indicator of an underlying psychological problem. Why not get help to find out what the problem is in order to live a more joyful life?
Drug Use - Drug use is endemic in the United States and in much of the rest of the world. According to the NIH, between 2001 and 2014 there was a 2.8 times greater number of deaths due to prescription drugs; 3.4 time for opioid pain-killers; 5 times for benzodiazepines; a 42% increase for cocaine; and six times for heroin . In 2014, 47,055 people died of drug overdoses according to a CNN report . Drug deaths are not just due to overdoses. Among other problems are cardiac issues for cocaine use  as well as brain cell damage and death explained in an article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry . Other drugs, such as methamphetamines also cause brain damage . Without the many problems associated with drug usage, just living one’s life being controlled by a drug doesn’t seem to me to be a free and happy existence.
Lack of Sleep - Our bodies must rest in order to repair itself after exercise and to heal itself in other ways. There is a certain amount of sleep our bodies need for us to be refreshed and to avoid increased risk of various diseases. The general guideline is 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep is desirable. A lack of proper sleep is associated with cardiovascular disease , diabetes, and high blood pressure which, by extension, decreases life expectancy. But don’t think you can sleep-in every day. Risks also increase with sleep periods of nine hours or more . To quantify it, Dr. Roizen, in his book RealAge [op. cit.] says that getting the proper sleep can decrease your “real age” by three years. That’s pretty good for just sleeping your way to a younger you.
Stress - Everyone says it themselves or knows someone who often says “I’m stressed,” and then goes on to blame the stress for many of their problems. Guess what? They are usually right. Decreasing stress in your life is one of the easiest ways to feel better and increase your life expectancy (decreasing your real age) while at the same time it is one of the most difficult. It’s easy because all you have to do is to flip a mental switch. It is difficult because it is sometimes very hard to find that switch. Stress can cause many problems. For example, chronic stress can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially in men . One of the most interesting studies examined telomeres, the equivalent of the plastic at the end of a shoestring that keeps it from unraveling. Telomeres are at the end of our DNA to keep it from unraveling. Shortening of telomeres is related to aging. When we lose the telomeres, it’s all over. So this particular study stated that stress shortened the telomeres . I’ll bet when the telomere issue is all figured out, the secret to keeping and even lengthening them will be the changing the habits listed on this page! So one way to reduce stress is mediation, which we will cover later .
Lack of Mental Exercise - We have all heard about staying mentally active as we age in order to avoid some debilitating neurological problems. I’m not going to cite any references but I’m going to give you a few ideas to keep your brain active. You will always see that learning another language is something we should do as we age. There is a free website, https://www.duolingo.com, where you can learn other languages absolutely free. It’s an amazing site. I have been using it for years. I recently was introduced to the Great Courses series, https://www.thegreatcoursesplus.com/viewplans. This one costs but as of this writing, there is a one-month free trial. There are many other free college courses that can be taken online if you look for them. Just search for “Free college courses.” I think that Yale and MIT as well as other top-notch universities offer them.
 RealAge: Are you as young as you can be?, Michael F. Roizen, M.D.
 Irwin, Melinda L, McTiernan, Anne, Manson, JoAnn E., Thomson, Cynthia A., Sternfeld, Barbara, et. al. (2011) Physical activity and survival in postmenopausal women with breast cancer: Results from the Women’s Health Initiative. Cancer Prevention Research Journal, 7
. Courneya, Kerry S., McKenzie, Donald C., Gelman, Karen, Mackey, John R., Reid, Robert D., et. al (2014) A multicenter randomized trial of the effects of exercise dose and type on psychosocial distress in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention, 861