The Lucky Years of Old Age
Here’s the common refrain for staying healthy in old age:
Exercise for at least 30 minutes and preferably 60 minutes, both
cardio, and strength, on a daily basis.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Move around more; less sitting and more standing.
Maintain good posture.
Stay positive and do not let stress get the best of you.
Monitor you blood pressure and glucose every day (and anything
else you can track).
Talk it all out with your doctor at the next visit and be proactive
about health and well-being.
Stay mentally challenged.
Find that place where you want to spend the rest of your days in
peace and harmony.
Did I forget anything?
The refrain is a baseline for enacting permanent change in lifestyle
habits that have formed over decades. Follow these mandates or
grow old ungracefully. Not following these mandates simply
increases the odds of becoming a burden. You don’t want to be
confined to a miserable existence. It’s obvious that a healthy path
will make you more alert and active—as well as a much happier and
vibrant person overall.
This is the kind of conversation I have with myself all the time now
that I have started collecting social security. It’s rather pathetic, this
daily pep talk. Some days it works better than others. Today, for
instance, I was up early, went for a vigorous walk, had a bowl of
berries with walnuts for breakfast, took my glucose and blood
pressure numbers and, while elevated, they were not all that bad.
Took a shower, got comfortable and really enjoyed reading for about
an hour before getting to the real work.
If I can religiously do this kind of day for one week straight without
the least bit of cheating, then I can do it for another week and
another until it becomes a habit (more on habits and deep work in
For some help, I suggest reading The Lucky Years:
How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health, by
David B. Agus, M.D., internationally recognized
professor of medicine and CBS News medical
After reading this book twice over the course of
one month, I changed my work, diet, and exercise
habits, along with my overall thinking about
aging. Thank you, Dr. Agus.
I’m not saying that reading this book will have the same kind of
influence on you, but I do strongly believe that reading this book can
only have a positive impact on how you will perceive and monitor
your aging self.
Here’s the main premise: We are alive during a time when medical
advances are taking shape that enable us to live very high quality,
healthy lives into our 90s, as long as we follow some relatively simple
rules and guidelines and become highly proactive monitors of our
individual health issues and challenges.
And, yes, you could still die young even if you do take this healthy
pathway. There are no guarantees, and everyone ages differently.
Some of us are susceptible to disease regardless of our healthy
habits. Simple math, however, shows that your odds increase the
likelihood of living a high quality existence into your 90s if you
rigorously and religiously practice good health.
As Agus noted in an interview I watched some time ago on the
Charlie Rose show:
“We are not going to live until 130 or 140 because there is general
engineering failure in the body, and I do not think we are at that point
where we can re-engineer the whole body.” He added, however, that “in
the short run. . . we’ll live quality years until our 90s or 100.”
Agus presents a variety of modern health and medicine
developments, based on Big Data and plenty of new health-related
technologies, that will enable the continued growth of the so-called
“Lucky Years,” including: precision/personalized medicine practices,
proteomics, gene editing, immunotherapy, inflammation
measurement, stem cell research, advanced cancer therapies, 3-D
printing of organs, and much more.
Information Literacy and Doctor Relationships
It’s extremely difficult, however, to wade through the enormous
amount of information about good health and aging without getting
lost. “Now that we live in an era of abundant information and data,
we need to develop a survival instinct that’s deft at navigating
through the rapidly changing flow of information, some of it good,
some of it not so good,” Agus explains in his book. He mentions that
deciphering the good from the bad information requires that we also
honor and identify our bodies as complex organisms. Each of us has
our “own unique nuances, patterns, preferences, and needs. And
there is no right answer in health decisions,” Agus writes.
Now, in my mind, that is an extraordinarily sensible and simple way
to look at your health. To repeat for greater emphasis: “There is no
right answer in health decisions.”
So, the marching orders are to pay very close attention to what’s
happening in your body and mind and be aware that your particular,
individualized way of medicating and treating your body healthfully,
or not, might be a worthwhile path to embark on. In other words,
you do not always have to follow your doctor’s suggestions regarding
medications and lifestyle changes becuase you know better than
anyone else how your body and mind reacts to outside influences.
The big caveat, in my own estimation, is that not obeying your
doctor’s suggestions, particularly if you know he is a smart doctor
(they are not all smart), must be thoroughly backed by your own
research into your complex self and then discussed with the best
doctor you can find for your individual tastes.
Find the Right Doctor
In brief, you have two choices: One is to obey your doctor and simply
not question anything he/she advises and go on your merry way; or
secondly, you can be extraordinarily proactive and attentive to how
your complex self works and very possibly not take your doctor’s
advice. You can and should continue to have a strong relationship
with your doctor, in which you discuss your health, and where your
doctor honors your decision and works around your decisions.
This is not an easy task, and it takes a relatively long time—at least it has
for me. Many doctors do not want to have this kind of relationship with
their patients because, for one, visits become a lot longer with patients
like you instead of patients who simply nod their heads in acceptance or
ask only a few questions. Many physician offices are packed with
patients (at least they are where I live) and do not even take new
patients; or, if they do, it takes a minimum of three months to get an
Many physicians want to have a full schedule of numerous patients
in order to earn what they think is a decent income for all the hard
work and financial investment they put into learning their craft. (I’m
sure there are also doctors who load up their schedules for purely
altruistic reasons as well.) They load up their schedules to a point
where quickly attending to one patient after another becomes a daily
routine. There is also the issue of HMOs and other health systems
imposing rules and regulations, especially on what medications to
prescribe, that have negative effects on the patient/doctor
Despite such hard-to-conquer challenges, the smart thing to do is
find a doctor who listens and follows your lead, and one who does
not get frustrated or angry with you if you do not strictly follow his
advice. Trying to find such a doctor could take years, and the
insurance companies do not make it any easier for you to accomplish
a doctor change.
The Problem with Changing Doctors and Medical Records
Many insurance plans do not cover evaluating a doctor before
placing him/her into your primary care physician slot. Additionally,
when changing to a new doctor, the paperwork and transference of
records is not always accurate, or your records become truly
confusing and have big breaks in time where records are missing.
The best way to get around the evaluation part when searching for a
new doctor is to simply make an appointment with a doctor that
interests you and pay out-of-pocket cash – that is, if the doctor’s
office allows that (and you can afford it) – some do not.
Unfortunately, getting around the medical records problem is often
insurmountable. Many doctor offices simply are not properly
equipped to handle the accurate recording and transfer of medical
records, but they are getting better at it.
Bottom line, there is no simple way to get around such
challenges—more often than not when you go with the system, your
records wind up all over the place and become completely
disorganized, especially if you have changed insurance plans and
have had several doctor changes. You ultimately wind up presenting
your new doctor with misinformation, which leads to misdiagnoses,
which leads to poor overall health.
All this really means is that you need to take on health issues on your
own time in a very proactive, dedicated, routine manner and learn
how to effectively record and communicate your complex self to your
doctor. It sucks, but it’s important. Your life depends on it.
Take the Two-Week Challenge
You can start along this pathway by taking Agus’s “two-week
challenge,” explained in chapter five of The Lucky Years. This is
where you basically keep your weight under control, manage stress
better, make physical activity a regular habit, be more attuned to
what your body is telling you and act accordingly, and stop
procrastinating on important tests and early-detection screenings,
Agus writes. All this falls under three lessons, he adds: record your
bodies features, measure yourself, and automate your life. The book
then presents a good number of tasks and schedules to follow over
14 days that will help you get on a solid and better health path.
Another tool that can help comes from Agus’s previous book, The End
of Illness, where he points his readers to a worthy “personal health
inventory” questionnaire you can complete in order to get a very
good idea about the true nature of your complex self (see
http://davidagus.com/resources/). Not only will this questionnaire
make you confront yourself more directly from a health and well-
being perspective, it is also a great starting point for sharing with
In short, combining the two-week challenge with the personal health
inventory tool can be of great benefit for your physical and mental
“In the short run. .
. we’ll live quality
years until our 90s
- David Agus