I would like to share with you two important factors to live longer. I was prompted to write this as a result of an article I read recently from the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Why the U.S. Has Lower Life Expectancy than Other Countries.” With all the advanced medical care we have, the U.S. should be at the top of the list. Unfortunately, there are more and more people dying at a younger age.
The United States spends almost twice as much per person on healthcare than any other country, but our life expectancy is shorter than other developed countries. According to the World Factbook, the United States ranks #43 in terms of life expectancy. That’s pretty poor. Life expectancy in the U.S started to fall in 2014. In this country we have the most robust cancer screening of any nation, heart attack survival rates keep getting better, more and more people are on cholesterol medication and all of the other drugs advertised heavily on TV, so why do we fall so far behind? The authors point to the problem, we are into the treating mode and not the prevention mode. I couldn’t agree more. They hit the nail on the head. Those of us in the natural medicine arena have been saying it for years and now the research is supporting it. We hear all of the time about prevention, but little is done to actually implement it.
So, here are two factors that address the declining health in the United States. Even though I am focusing on the United States, many other countries are following suit because our poor lifestyle is infiltrating many other developed countries.
Let’s find out what you can do.
Health-span. This is a relatively new word in the healthcare world. We are all familiar with the word lifespan. It has been a part of our vocabulary for probably as long as we can remember. One dictionary defines lifespan as “the duration or existence of an individual.” That same dictionary defines health-span as “the length of time that the person is healthy- not just alive.” I love this word because it puts substance to the choices we make regarding our health.
In order to increase your health-span, you must have a good doctor/patient relationship. In doing research for a book I am writing, I was amazed by a startling fact regarding the doctor/patient relationship, and what the insurance industry has done to diminish that relationship. I had to re-read the study because I just couldn’t believe it. In the Journal of General Internal Medicine there was a study that looked at randomly selected patients at the Mayo and affiliated clinics. In most of the encounters the doctor did not even question the patient as to why they were there. When the doctor did allow the patient to explain the reason for their visit, most of the doctors interrupted quickly–at an average of 11 seconds. Not 11 minutes, but 11 seconds. Even if your experience is much better than this alarming statistic, one has to admit that doctor/patient interaction time for most patients has decreased significantly over the past few decades.
In the disease model of care the most important part is the symptom and how to best hide or control it. For my new patients I spend at least an hour going over many aspects of a person’s health, diet, lifestyle etc. Your physician needs to know you, not just your symptoms and you need to feel comfortable asking him or her questions that are important to you. If you don’t get answers to your questions, find a new doc. Do I blame the doctors? Not totally. The insurance industry is in control of many of the clinical decisions that were formerly up to the doctors.
True prevention. As the study referenced above indicated, one of the main problems is most healthcare focuses on treating and not on prevention. True prevention focuses on how to help an individual avoid disease–hopefully in the very early stages of metabolic dysfunction. Once the insurance companies started taking over, the focus moved from healthcare to disease care. Sometimes patients come to me for a second opinion. And when I look at their blood-work and other records, I am so often surprised at the lack of appropriate testing. If we move back to true healthcare, we will be able to significantly decrease the costs associated with many of the chronic diseases which account for about 80% of the healthcare budget in America. True prevention cannot be accomplished in 11-second office visits.
For people who want to move to the prevention side both conventional testing and functional testing are necessary in order to look at the potential underlying metabolic problems that if let go will develop into chronic disease and other health issues. It is kind of like driving down the road with tire tread that has been getting thinner and thinner for months or years. When driving the car it seems fine, yet you have noticed that the car does not stop as well as it did, and when accelerating from a stop the wheels spin a little before they get traction. For the most part it gets you where you want to go. To you, it’s not worth dealing with the tire situation yet. Now you are driving down the highway and at around mile marker 256 the tire blows out causing you to make a split-second decision on how to control the vehicle to the side of the road. The blowout could have been caused by running over a sharp object, or more likely, it could have been the thinned tire just wearing through. Just like the tire thinning over time with wear, our health declines with the lack of proper food, lack of exercise, stress, poor sleep, and the list goes on and on. If you don’t take care of your health when the little symptoms appear you will be forced to make costly decisions later. Dentists have been saying this for years, doesn’t the rest of your body deserve the same? The best assurance of maintaining a healthy life is focusing on prevention. Most doctors are not even aware of the newer tests available that truly look at core-level health.
I developed the Functional Health Index for everyone who would like an objective analysis of their health. It will give you an indication if you should be concerned with your current state of health. Go to Goodmedicinefh.com and click on the FHI button, then check your score and see where you are on the health scale.
And remember. . . Good health and longevity doesn’t just happen. Anyone can improve their health, but it takes commitment and effort. I want you to enjoy the longest health-span possible.