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Living a longer, heart-healthy life

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POSTED July 24, 2012 6:02 p.m.

Eat Right. Exercise. Don’t smoke. You’ve probably heard it all before. But can healthy living longer now help you live to be 100, 120 or even 140 years old?

The answer is… maybe. There are a lot of theories about how—or even if— people can live significantly longer than the average American life expectancy of 78.7 years. There are also plenty of myths about longevity.

“One of the biggest myths in medicine is that because we inherit our parents’ genes, if they died young, we’re doomed to die young,” says Dr. Oussama Dagher, an interventional cardiologist at Emanuel Specialty Care, Cardiovascular Medicine. “The truth is that our own individual lifestyle choices make a huge impact on our life expectancy.”

While there are no specific numbers on what percentage of life expectancy is determined by genetics, some actions definitely can improve both the length and quality of your life, Dr. Dagher says.

“Avoiding cigarette smoking, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are vital,” Dr. Dagher says. “A heart-healthy lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle. It can help you live longer, and enjoy life more.”

Researchers are also discovering the importance of:

• Controlling stress

• Sleeping well

• Building supportive relationships

Consuming foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with antioxidant-rich foods such as vegetables and fruits, may also help prevent some of the consequences of aging—or at least delay them.

Some of the most intriguing research into longevity involves body mass index, known as BMI. A healthy BMI, as opposed to an extremely high or an extremely low BMI, is a significant indicator of health and longevity, and the medical profession is beginning to be more proactive about earlier intervention.

Dr. Huy Dao, who specializes in bariatric surgery at Emanuel Medical Center, says American medicine has long targeted acute diseases and how to treat them. But he sees a shift in public health that focuses more on treating conditions before they become acute, including obesity.

“Until recently people could not qualify for weight-loss surgery until they were so ill from the effects of obesity that they were looking at death’s door,” says Dr. Dao. “At that point, there’s only so much we can do to heal the damage that has been done. But if we can address these issues before the damage is irreversible, the possibilities for a long, healthy life are much better.”

BMI categories

BMI, Weight status

Below 18.5, Underweight

18.5 – 24.9, Normal

25.0 – 29.9, Overweight

30.0 and above, Obese

To calculate BMI: Divide weight in pounds by height in inches squared, then multiply by 703, or search “BMI calculator” on the Internet.

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