“Long life,” or “Arichus Yomim,” has been used as a bracha (blessing) from one Jew to another for thousands of years. We also say “L’chaim!” — “To Life!” — as a blessing to each other before we take a drink. Two similar blessings, but very different in their ramifications.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, approximately 10,000 people a day turn 65.We are aging differently than previous generations, however. Physically and mentally, the health of today’s 70-year-old now equals that of a 65-year-old in the 1970s.
Since that period, deaths from heart disease and many cancers have dipped. And while many older adults have at least one chronic health problem, disability has slowly and significantly declined. It is interesting to note, that the United States has been slipping in its longevity ratings compared to other countries. Israel, on the other hand has been climbing.
When the numbers are added up more carefully, though, there are obvious differences between men and women. A newborn boy born in 2004 or after can expect to live a bit more than 75 years, while his sister can expect to live to slightly more than 80. As you grow older, your average life expectancy stretches. For example, while the life expectancy of a newborn in the United States is nearly 78, a 65-year-old can expect to live 19 years longer, and a 75-year-old for another 12 years. What is just as important as “long life” is the l’chaim part of it— living life and maintaining not only longevity but quality of life until 120.
Why did life expectancy increase so much in the 20th century in developed nations? Whether individuals develop a particular disease is usually determined by three things: their lifestyle (including diet and exercise), their environment (such as exposure to infectious microbes or toxins), and their genes. Increased lifespan surely has nothing to do with genes: our genes today are the same as they were a century ago. Instead, changes in lifestyle and environment are responsible.
Changes in the environment—such as better sanitation, the use of antibiotics, and many other improvements in medical care—can claim much of the credit. As for lifestyle, in developed nations, nutritional deficiency diseases largely were eliminated in the last century. Still, not all nutritional changes have been entirely for the better. In the United States, at the turn of the 20th century, most Americans lived on farms or in rural communities. We ate fresh, unprocessed food every day, and we worked hard physically. Today, our diets are less healthful in many ways, and we exercise less. And that leads us to the second blessing—l’chaim!
The doctors can definitely help us live longer with all of the great advancement in medical care and treatments that we have today. But there is so much that we can do that will extend and enhance our lives. And we all understand the value of every second of life. So it is incumbent upon us to take our well-being into our own hands. So what are some practical measures we can take to both extend life and be able to serve the Ribono Shel Olam well during that time? Again, Harvard Medical School gives us some practical tips to do to the best of our ability:
1. Don’t smoke.
2. Include physical and mental activities into daily life.
3. Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and substitute healthier Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats for unhealthy saturated fats and Trans fats.
4. Take a daily multivitamin, and be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D.
5. Maintain a healthy weight and body shape.
6. Challenge your mind.
7. Build a strong social network.
8. Protect your sight, hearing, and general health by following preventive care guidelines.
9. Floss, brush, and see a dentist regularly. Poor oral health may have many repercussions, including poor nutrition, unnecessary pain, and possibly even a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
10. Discuss with your doctor whether you need any medication—perhaps to control high blood pressure, treat osteoporosis, or lower cholesterol—to help you stay healthy.
Most of your health and longevity is in your hands. Hashem has given us all the tools at our disposal in order to maintain health. Let’s use them. Be active, exercise, eat right, stay positive, manage and reduce stress. Following these tips can “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”