REAL  AGE

Young Every Day

HEALTH HABITS TO KEEP YOU YOUNG


There are healthy habits that all of us can adopt to significantly reduce our rate of ageing. Whether it's getting enough sleep, eating breakfast, drinking alcohol in moderation, or walking the dog, some daily routines and overall life strategies can help us have longer, healthier, and younger lives. Learn to incorporate these habits into your daily life.


Often it's the simple things that matter most in Age Reduction. You think
you don't have time to sleep seven or eight hours a night? You don't have
time not to. Your body needs time to rest and regenerate, and getting
enough ZZZZZs will make your waking hours more productive. Getting a
full night's sleep can reduce your RealAge by as much as three years.


Difficulty rating: Moderately easy to very difficult


Once you've slept the whole night through, don't forget to start the day off
right. Eating a low-fat, high-nutrient breakfast gives a power start to the day
and helps keep you three years younger than those who never eat breakfast.


Difficulty rating: Moderately easy


Do you like to have a drink now and then? Well, moderate drinking—that
is, one-half to one drink a day for women and one or two drinks a day for
men-—-may help you stay younger longer. A little alcohol can help your
heart and arteries keep their spring. Moderate drinkers may gain as much
as a 1.9-years-younger RealAge benefit, but drinking too much and too
often can be dangerous, even life threatening. Indeed, heavy drinkers may
have a RealAge that is three years older than that of nondrinkers.


Difficulty rating: Moderately easy (moderate alcohol consumption) to the most difficult (cutting back on excessive alcohol consumption)


• Fido owners, rejoice. People who own dogs actually stay younger longer. Think of your furry friend as an exercise-promoting stress-reducer. Sorry, cat owners, the greatest RealAge benefit of pet ownership has gone to the dogs: one year younger.


Difficulty rating: Moderate


Humans are creatures of habit—bad habits, more often than not. It is so easy to slide into unhealthy behaviors that can make us age faster than we should. Pressed for time, we skimp on sleep. Feeling guilty about last night's bowl of double-chocolate fudge ice cream, we skip breakfast. But we can learn good habits, too, even some that we can look forward to. Drinking alcohol in moderation—one-half to one drink a day for women and one or two drinks a day for men-—can help prevent arterial ageing. ('One drink' is 12 oz of beer, 4 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80-proof liquor.) One of the best habits is walking the dog. Why? More exercise. As the torn-of-the-century physician William Osier said, "Walk your dog. Even if you don't have one."


Maintaining the quality of your life affects the quantity of your life: The better you take care of yourself, the younger you stay. How many times have you heard, 'Do everything in moderation' and 'Achieve balance in life'? Until recently, those sayings were more folklore than science. When it comes to ageing, research has confirmed that this commonsense folk wisdom is right. Let us now consider a few changes that are easy to do, simple to integrate into your life, and don't necessarily require the resolve that getting in shape or changing one's diet does.


Beauty Rest: Wake Up Younger in the Morning


I was the worst offender. When I was training to become a doctor, interns and residents were expected to survive without sleep. As I continued my career and had a family, I found myself getting busier and busier, with less and less time to do all the things I wanted to do. I just kept cutting down on the hours I slept, learning to rely on five hours a night or less. I didn't realize I was making my RealAge older. And I was making all my waking hours less productive.


Several studies have evaluated the long-term health effects of getting regular sleep. The data, drawn from reports from around the world, show that sleeping seven to eight hours a night provides protection against needless ageing. The best-known study on sleep patterns, the famous Alameda County, California, study, found that men who slept seven to eight hours a night and women who slept six to seven hours a night had a significantly lower mortality risk than those who did not. To translate that risk into RealAge terms, regular sleep patterns can make a three-year difference.


Our bodies aren't designed to accommodate the crazy schedules and hours that contemporary society demands of us. A hundred years ago, no one lived in a world lit by unnatural light. Life was largely shaped by the cycle of the day. Not so anymore. Our bodies [were  created - my words - Keith Hunt] …. to adapt to the natural cycle of the day. Our natural rhythms follow this schedule, assisted by hormones, such as melatonin, serotonin, and Cortisol, that are secreted at different times of the day to push us through our sleep-to-wake cycle. For example, as it begins to get dark, our bodies begin to secrete melatonin, a hormone that increases drowsiness. As the sun starts to rise, the adrenal gland begins producing Cortisol, a hormone that gets us up and going. The less sleep we get and the less consistent we are about getting it, the more confused our body 'clocks' become and the more tired we are.


More than 20 percent of American adults find themselves dozing off at inappropriate moments or during quiet and sedentary activities-—-a sign that, on the whole, we aren't getting enough sleep. When I was an intern, I woke up at a dinner party at my professor's house with pie a la mode on my face. After a night on call, I had fallen asleep into the dessert. My date didn't wake me up, nor did anyone else. Most of us require at least six hours of sleep a night, usually between seven and eight hours. Sleeping more than nine hours a night regularly is too much for most of us and is often a sign of an underlying health problem. When we are younger, we need more sleep, and the quality of our sleep is better. As we age, the quality of our sleeping time diminishes. Our periods of 'slow-wave sleep'—the kind of sleep needed to ensure cognitive alertness and motor coordination-—decrease from 150 minutes a day to just 25.


Sleep deprivation lowers your performance at work and can adversely affect your moods, making you less attentive and, yes, grouchy. Also, sleepy people are at a greater risk of accidents, especially during periods of maximum sleepiness, such as the late afternoon or after midnight. As your body gets increasingly tired, your 'sleep latency window'—the time it takes to go from being bored to dead asleep—decreases from as much as three minutes to just thirty seconds. That is, the more sleep-deprived you are, the more likely it is for you to doze off at the wheel or otherwise to put yourself and others in a life-threatening situation.


(I  KNOW  I  HAVE  NEEDED  7  TO  8  HOURS  OF  SLEEP  A  NIGHT.  IF  I  GET  LESS  I'M  NOT  IN GOOD  FORM,  MENTALLY  OR  PHYSICALLY  -  Keith Hunt)


What kind of habits ensure a good night's sleep? Sleep in a cool, darkroom.


If you find it hard to get to sleep, do something relaxing before going to bed— reading or watching TV—to calm you down. You can also drink a glass of milk or eat a banana or some other melatonin or serotonm containing food to help make you feel sleepy. If you need to rise early in the morning, skip late-night activities. The best sleep schedule is regular and one that is in sync with the natural rhythms of the day. 


Sleep late on weekends to repay sleep debts. No, it's not a myth: You actually can catch up on restorative sleep, a specific type of sleep that we think is needed for normal brain functioning. And take a nap if you feel tired-—even twenty minutes can make you feel refreshed. Remember that naps do not make up for a good night's sleep, since you do not pass through all the stages of sleep that your body needs to feel refreshed to meet the day—-REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep and slow-wave sleep.


Do you have sleep problems? Illness or stress can disrupt the sleep pattern, making us sleep too much or not enough. For example, two common signs of clinical depression are waking up too early in the morning and sleeping an endless numbers of hours. Other diseases can disturb your sleep cycle, causing chronic sleepiness or fatigue. If you notice changes in your sleep cycle, talk to your doctor about possible causes. If you are under a lot of stress, try to find new ways of relaxing. For example, exercise may help. One study found that exercising in the early evening—walking, lifting weights, or any kind of workout—improved both the quantity and quality of sleep.


Although sleeping pills or alcohol might produce short-term sleep benefits, in the long run they disrupt sleep. Regular use of these substances can confuse your circadian rhythm (your internal clock), which means that you may then need a drug if you are to sleep at all. Occasional use is usually not a problem (for example, you can take melatonin supplements to help avoid jet lag during international flights), and there are times when you may feel you need sleeping pills. If so, talk to your doctor. Sleeping pills can be physically and psychologically addictive and may have long-term ageing effects. In fact, a recent study found that people who used sleeping pills more than fourteen days a month were 1.9 years older, and that those who took twenty-nine or more a month were 2.8 years older. It is a good idea to use sleeping pills for only a limited time or to abstain from them altogether.


(I  FOUND  WHEN  I  WAS  NEAR  60  THAT  I  HAD  INSOMNIA.  I  STILL  DO.  I  HAVE  BEEN  TAKING  SLEEPING  PILLS  FOR  12  YEAR.  THEY  HAVE  NOT  AGED  ME,  SO  I  WOULD  HAVE  TO  DISAGREE  HERE  WITH  THE  AUTHOR.  PEOPLE  GUESS  MY  AGE  AT  ABOUT  50;  I  AM  71 - NEAR 72  -  Keith Hunt)


The next time you think you can skimp on shut-eye, remember that sleep is one of the healthy habits that keep you young. Sleep helps strengthen your immune system, boosts your attention span, and dissipates excess stress that can damage your arteries, stomach, and immune system.


Don't Skip Breakfast: Starting the Day Off Right


When I was doing research for this book, I found that one of my favorite time-saving (and calorie-saving) schemes, skipping breakfast, was actually making my RealAge older. In fact, until I started researching the RealAge effect of different behaviors, I always skipped breakfast. And I congratulated myself for doing so, thinking I would not only save myself twenty minutes a day but also keep my weight down. I was wrong. Instead of saving myself time, I was spending time—making my RealAge as much as three years older. Studies have consistently shown that people who eat meals at regular intervals, particularly those who eat breakfast, stay younger longer. Indeed, non-breakfast-eaters have a mortality rate that is 1.3 to 1.5 times per year higher than those who eat breakfast regularly.


Breakfast is the first part of a daylong eating plan; it is better for us to eat several small meals throughout the day than one large meal at night. Eating breakfast helps our bodies metabolize food more efficiently and cuts down on the urge to snack between meals. Unhealthy snacking more than three days a week can increase your RealAge. Eating regularly helps break up long periods of fasting, meaning that our body doesn't have to gear up to digest a big meal after doing nothing for hours, which is not an efficient process. In addition, some researchers have hypothesized that we burn more fat during our waking hours, since we are more active. Thus, we may burn off our breakfast calories more effectively than we would an overstuffed, late-night dinner. That is still speculation.


Eating breakfast also makes your cardiovascular and immune systems younger. We don't know exactly why, but there are several theories. First, cereals contain lots of fiber, and fiber helps prevent arterial ageing by preventing lipid buildup. Fiber also helps decrease the risk of cancer. The average American eats 12 grams of fiber a day, but increasing your fiber intake to 25 grams per day can reduce arterial ageing and make your RealAge as much as three years younger. Second, cereals usually have vitamins added to them. During breakfast, we get many of the essential nutrients that we may not get for the rest of the day. This is even more important if you don't eat lots of fruits and vegetables during the day, or if you don't take supplements regularly. Other typical breakfast foods (fortified fruit juices, yogurt, and whole fruit) also contain essential nutrients, such as vitamins C and D and calcium.


So, specifically, what should you eat for breakfast? Cereals, fruits, juices, and low-fat dairy products like fat-free yogurt or skim milk. Choose a whole-grain cereal with no extra fat or sugar that just adds empty calories. Become a label reader and watch out for 'healthy' breakfast foods, including many brands of granola, that actually contain a lot of calories and fat. Drink plenty of juices—pure juice or fortified pure juice, not juice cocktails or blends that contain too much added sugar and less real juice. Whole fruits are even better than juice because they contain much desired fiber. Both are good sources of vitamin C and potassium. Eat whole-grain or multigrain toast; again, read the labels because many commercially manufactured breads contain added sugar, salt, and other ingredients that you may want to avoid. Instead of a pastry or a croissant, which are high in fat, choose an English muffin…. Fruit spreads are a good substitute for high-sugar and calorie-laden jams and jellies. In general, avoid breakfast foods high in saturated fats such as bacon and sausage [In God's food laws they should not be eaten period - Keith Hunt]. Omelets with salsa—no cheese—for a low-cholesterol, low-fat option. If you crave pancakes or waffles …. [Use only organic whole wheat flour - Keith Hunt].  Use chopped fruit with a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top instead of mounds of butter and syrup.


Remember, too, that 'donuts and coffee' is an absolutely empty breakfast - lots of calories, lots of artery-ageing fat, and no nutrition. Use breakfast time to stimulate your imagination: Try unconventional breakfast foods, such as chopped vegetables with a handful of low-fat whole-grain crackers, or a corn tortilla loaded with beans, lettuce, and tomato. Or make a fruit-juice smoothie in your blender. Add orange juice, ice, and any kind of fruit you want— bananas, berries, peaches, and mangoes. You can even add raw beets or tomatoes. If you own a juicer, you can make carrot or tomato juice mixed with celery, spinach, and other vegetables. It's a time-saving, nutrient rich, and fat-free way to begin the day.


If you are too busy to sit down to breakfast each morning, have a breakfast-on-the-go. Carry a small bag of cereal with you and munch on the cereal as you drive to work. Or pack a low-fat yogurt. Buy juice boxes with real juice— not 'juice drinks' or 'juice cocktails'—and carry them in your purse or briefcase. Keep plenty of fruit around, to start the day and to munch on between meals. Becoming a breakfast eater can make your RealAge as much as three years younger. And that's not even counting the RealAge benefits from all the vitamins; minerals; and other nutrients, such as carotenoids, flavonoids, and, of course, fiber you get from eating nutritious food.


Finally, breakfast can be an important social time. For many families, the weekend is a time for everyone to get together and talk about what happened during the week. Saturday and Sunday morning brunches are also a good time to see friends and to strengthen the social ties that help keep us younger.


(WHEN  I  WAS  WORKING  A  FULL  DAY  JOB  I  ALWAYS  ATE  BREAK-FAST.  I  WAS  MAINLY  SATISFIED  WITH  A  WHOLE  GRAIN [NO  SUGAR  ADDED]  CERIAL,  ORGANIC  MILK,  HONEY,  AND  FRUIT  ADDED - Keith Hunt)


Mixed Drinks: The Pros and Cons of Alcohol Consumption


In January 1996, the U.S. government, in announcing a revision of dietary guidelines, declared that the moderate intake of alcohol appeared to be beneficial to human health. The announcement was astounding. Clearly, we'd come a long way from Prohibition. After years of fighting alcohol consumption, the government was actually encourageing it. However, the government was careful to emphasize 'moderate.' That means one-half to one drink a day for women and one to two drinks a day for men—-nothing more.


The issue is clearly a delicate one. Alcohol can help you or harm you. Regular consumption of alcohol in small amounts helps prevent arterial ageing and heart attacks. Too much alcohol consumption can lead to alcoholism, liver disease, increased cancer rates, and increased risk of death from accidents during intoxication. Approximately 5 percent of all deaths can be attributed to the excessive consumption of alcohol, and the medical and social effects of drinking too much can be extremely severe. Around 100,000 Americans die every year of alcohol-related diseases, and 20 million Americans suffer problems related to alcohol addiction.


So, what's the right balance? Should you incorporate moderate drinking into your Age Reduction Plan? Or are you someone who can't drink in moderation and probably shouldn't drink at all?


First, the RealAge Age Reducing effect of alcohol consumption begins only when a person reaches the age at which the risk of cardiovascular disease increases—-after menopause for women and age forty to fifty for men. Second, the antiageing benefits apply only to some people. Therefore, you need to weigh your risks and decide whether alcohol consumption should be part of your Age Reduction Plan. You also need to determine if you can consume alcohol in moderate amounts, considering your own genetic and social risks of developing alcoholism, liver disease, or cancers.


The connection between alcohol and reduced arterial ageing—the so-called red wine factor—was first observed in France. The southern French, whose traditional diet is heavy in fatty cheeses, butter, and red meats, had surprisingly lower rates of cardiovascular disease than would have been predicted. The hypothesis that scientists came up with to explain this discrepancy was that all the red wine the French use to wash down their saturated fat-laden food was helping to protect their arteries from the buildup of fatty plaque. Mounting evidence now suggests that not just red wine but any alcoholic beverage helps protect us from arterial ageing. When it comes to Age Reduction, all alcoholic beverages seem to have the same effect: 4 ounces of wine is the same as one can of beer, which is the same as 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. Moderate and regular consumption of alcohol reduces the risk of heart attack by as much as 30 percent, making your RealAge 1.9 years younger (see Table 10.2).


How does alcohol retard or reverse arterial ageing? No one knows the answer. Alcohol appears to prevent clotting by decreasing the rate of platelet aggregation, meaning that the platelets don't stick together as fast as they nor-

Table 10.2

The RealAge Effect of Alcohol

For Men

Of drinking one alcoholic drink a day 


At age 35:   0.9 years younger 

At age 55:   1.7 years younger 

At age 70:  2.3 years younger.


Of drinking three to six alcoholic drinks a day 

At age 35:  0.1 to 1.4 years older 

At age 55:  0.2 to 5 years older 

At age 70:   0.3 to 7.6 years older.

For Women

Of drinking one alcoholic drink a day


At age 35:   Probably none, as the benefits for women do not usually occur until after menopause.

At age 55:   1.8 years younger

At age 70:   2.2 years younger


Of drinking three to six alcoholic drinks a day

At age 35:  0.1 to 64 years older 

At age 55:   0.2 to 5 years older 

At age 70:  0.3 to 7.6 years older


mally would. Also, alcohol appears to prevent fat from oxidizing and, in this way, prevents it from forming plaques along the walls of the arteries. Alcohol promotes the health of the endothelium, the layer of cells lining your arteries that promotes proper blood flow. Although some may be better than others, all types of alcoholic beverages help reduce the level of atherosclerosis. All alcohol causes an increase in HDL (healthy) cholesterol levels. Red wine, presumably because of the presence of flavonoids in grape skins, may have other benefits as well. The flavonoids act as an antioxidant and free-radical scavenger, resulting in reduced arterial and immune system ageing.


What is the evidence that alcohol reduces arterial ageing and thereby the incidence of heart disease? The well-known Nurses Health Study, an analysis of the health habits of almost ninety thousand female nurses, found that those who drank three or more drinks a week (equivalent to one-half to one drink a day) had a 40 percent lower rate of nonfatal heart attacks and arterial disease than those who did not. Several corresponding studies of men found similar results. These studies also found that there was an ideal range of alcohol consumption. Women who had one-half to one drink a day and men who had one or two drinks a day were at a lower risk of coronary and arterial ageing, yet did not have a higher risk of ageing from liver disease or cancers, conditions that excess drinking can cause. Individuals who drank less than these limits were also at a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, whereas those who drank more had significant increases in their RealAge because of cancers, liver disease, car accidents, and other accidents. Those in the low-to-moderate drinking range had the longest life expectancy, the fewest health problems, and the youngest RealAge at any calendar age.


Should you have a drink or two a night? That depends. Women should consume no more than one drink a night, and men should have no more than two. Why can women get the same antiageing effect from less alcohol? There are three reasons. First, women tend to be smaller, which affects the overall amount of alcohol they can tolerate at any time. Second, women have less alcohol dehydrogenase in the lining of their stomachs. This enzyme breaks down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream. Women thus tend to absorb more alcohol into their bloodstream per drink. Third, when you drink a lot, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol (cytochrome CYPE2A) increases. Unfortunately, this enzyme also breaks down hormones, such as oestrogen, that help protect women from heart disease.


People who are at a high risk of cardiovascular disease-—either because of a family history of heart attacks or because of signs of developing atherosclerosis—will get the most Age Reducing benefit from a drink a day. In contrast, people at risk of alcohol-related diseases should avoid alcohol altogether. Smokers and those with a family history of alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver, hepatic cancer, or other alcohol-related illnesses are also strongly urged to avoid all alcohol consumption.


The liver is the principle site of metabolism of alcohol and as such remains at the highest risk of damage—and ageing—-from alcohol use. Liver scarring from the use of alcohol (cirrhosis) can cause considerable ageing. In some urban areas, it's the fourth leading cause of death for individuals age twenty-five to sixty-four. Cirrhosis of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis) can cause a person to age even faster than many types of cancers. Since cirrhosis of the liver causes irreversible structural damage, there are few treatment options for the disease once it reaches an advanced stage. Damage to the liver also appears to be related to an increased risk of cancer.


There are two theories about why excessive drinking causes cancer. The first and most widely held explanation is that the consumption of alcohol induces or increases the production of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol, the cytochrome we referred to above, called CYPE2A. This enzyme breaks down not only alcohol but also other foreign substances, often creating carcinogenic compounds in the process. That is why smokers, in particular, need to avoid drinking alcohol. The combination is deadly. The same enzyme that breaks down alcohol, (CYPE2A) and hence increases when you are drinking, also breaks down the nitrosarnines in cigarette smoke into a carcinogenic form. By stimulating the production of this enzyme, alcohol increases the risk of cancer from smoking. The RealAge effect can make someone as much as five to ten years older.


A second explanation for the higher incidence of cancer among heavy drinkers is that alcohol itself contains low levels of cancer-causing substances. The risk of throat and digestive-track cancers increases two to ten times among heavy drinkers, depending on the kind of cancer. Women in particular have to be careful: Those who drink too much are twice as likely to have uterine and cervical cancers, although, curiously, not breast cancers.


Excessive drinking can age you in other ways, too. Alcohol is fattening, and heavy drinkers tend to carry around more paunch and to look older. But that fat ages more than your looks. The impurities that are stored in the fat also increase your risk of cancer to that of someone five to ten years older. Finally, alcohol consumption impairs the absorption of crucial nutrients and vitamins, leading to nutritional deficiencies and even malnutrition. Alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased intake of thiamine, folate, iron, zinc, vitamin E, and vitamin C. It also decreases the efficiency of metabolism, particularly of the pancreas.


The best-known ageing effects from overconsumption of alcohol are accidents, both from automobiles and other causes. Never, ever, drink and drive. You put both yourself and others at risk. If you are out with friends, make sure to choose a designated driver or take a taxi home. And operating a boat, swimming, or putting yourself in other potentially risky situations while drinking can cause rapid ageing.


If you think that you drink too much, you probably do. If drinking is a problem for you, talk to your doctor about the possible medical risks, as well as strategies for quitting and getting younger. There are also many well-known clinics and organizations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, that are extremely effective in helping break the addiction to alcohol. If you are a heavy drinker, the best RealAge plan for you is to quit drinking altogether. For people who regularly have a drink or two a night, the RealAge advantage is 1.9 years. For people who drink too much, the RealAge damage can be more than three years older.


A fun way to incorporate moderate drinking into your life—and one that is less likely to lead to overconsumption of alcohol—is to become a wine lover. By learning about different vintages and types of wine, you can have fun and lower your RealAge at the same time. The French weren't all wrong.   


(IF  YOU  ARE  NORMAL  IN  HEALTH,  GOD'S  WORD  BACKS  UP  ALCOHOLIC  DRINKING…BUT  IN  MODERATION  -  Keith Hunt)


Walk Your Dog: Even If You Don't Have One


When George S. died at age eighty-nine, his wife Joy, who was somewhat younger, found herself in a quandary. Although she was free to travel for the first time in years, her cocker spaniel Lucy kept her tied to home. Since George had been one of my patients for some time, Joy and I had become friends, and she often called me to ask about health and other related issues.


"Mike," she said, "I feel so torn. I adore Lucy, and she's one of my last ties to George. We picked her out together when she was a puppy, we named her, we housebroke her, and she nursed him right through to the end. The night he died, she lay curled on the bed next to him, offering comfort. But now I want to travel, and I feel guilty about leaving her. Do you think that I should get rid of her?"

"Let's see if we can find a way for you to keep Lucy but have some relief from the full-time demands," I told Joy. Part of the reason I felt she should keep Lucy is that owning a dog is good for you. Pet owners—particularly dog owners—stay younger longer. Indeed, the RealAge benefit is as much as one year younger and perhaps even more so during particularly stressful times.


Although one-third to one-half of all the households in the Enghsh-speaking world have pets, little research has been done on the effects of pets on health and ageing. Most of the medical literature on pets deals only with the negative aspects of pet ownership, such as allergies or the increased risk of disease. These issues should not be of concern to most people. Even if you are vulnerable to allergies or immune diseases, you might still be able to have a pet if you really want one. Talk to your doctor about the possible solutions.


Unfortunately, most studies on the benefits of animal ownership have not been rigorously controlled, and the results are often skewed. Since everyone involved in the research seems to enjoy animals, it is often difficult to be objective about the actual health benefits that pets may provide. Also, one needs to consider whether people who own animals are different in other respects from those who do not. Perhaps they are more social and less stressed, which is why they want pets in the first place. Finally, pet owners themselves are not all alike. Some clearly get enormous enjoyment out of their pets, whereas others see them as one more chore. To get a RealAge benefit from owning a pet, a person presumably should enjoy the pet. What this means is that you shouldn't get a pet just because it can make you younger, but that those of you who already own pets can take comfort in knowing that your animal companions make you younger.


(THOSE  WHO  DELIBERATELY  WANT  A  PET [I HAD  A  DOG  FOR 17 YEARS, A CAT FOR 5 YEARS {INHERITED IT FROM A FRIEND WHO DIED OF CANCER} AND  I'VE  HAD  MY  HORSE  FOR  9  YEARS]  DO  GET  EMOTIONAL  HEALTH  AND  I  BELIEVE  PHYSICAL  HEALTH  ALSO.  BUT  YOU  CAN  STILL  BE  HEALTHY  AND  LIVE  LONG  IF  YOU  ARE  NOT  A  "PET"  PERSON  -  Keith Hunt)


A 1980 study on heart attack survivors found that the survival rate within one year of the heart attack was 94 percent for pet owners and only 72 percent for non-pet-owners. It didn't matter what kind of pet the person owned, either—dog, cat, bird, or iguana. Other confounding variables, such as different life circumstances, could not account for the benefit. In an expanded and more rigorous study, the results were similar. In fact, the survival rate for dog owners after a heart attack was even better. When translated into RealAge terms, the heart attack sufferers who owned dogs were as much as 3.25 years younger during their recovery period than those who did not own dogs. Other studies have found that pet owners have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels. Also, pet owners seem to suffer fewer headaches, cold sores, and other chronic infections and to have a better overall sense of psychological well-being. It appears, too, that pet owners fare better during especially stressful times, suffering major life events less severely than those who don't own pets. Pet owners do not have as many bouts of depression and maintain better self-esteem.    


Dog owners show a particular benefit. Why dogs and not cats? I spent a lot of time puzzling over this question. Since I do not own a dog or a cat, I had no personal experience on which to base an opinion. I assumed that all the walking that dog owners have to do might have something to do with the benefit, but the studies weren't clear about the reasons. Osier, one of the preeminent clinicians of the nineteenth century, observed that dog ownership boosted activity and exercise. After some ad hoc research of my own, I agree that the demands of dog ownership promote a healthier lifestyle. After speaking to some dog owners at a local park, I learned that dog ownership promotes other good habits in addition to extra exercise. Having a dog often means keeping a more regular schedule, including a more regular sleep schedule, that will accommodate the dog's need for regular walks. Also, dog owners who walk their dogs at the same park often form a social community, providing a support network for each other. All these factors can keep your RealAge younger.


When I reread the literature, it made a lot more sense. I called Joy and said, "I did some research on dogs, and not only is Lucy a good companion, but it's true that she keeps you younger. I think you should keep her and find a dog sitter-—someone you can count on to take care of her when you are away."


Do not get a dog unless you are prepared to take care of one. If you think it will be too much work or will add unwanted stress to your life, it probably will—and that's not fair to you or the dog.


Osier and others have attributed the advantages of pet ownership to physiologic benefits. This is where pet owners part ways with the data. Many pet owners claim that their pets give them an enormous psychological boost, something that in RealAge terms would make them much more than the one year younger attributed to dog walking. That may well be true. Most pet owners are extremely attached to their pets, and a high percentage of them find their relationship with their pets absolutely essential to their emotional well-being. Unfortunately, since no scientific data have accurately measured this relationship, we cannot calculate a RealAge benefit for these emotional factors. The only scientifically reliable information pertains to the physiologic benefits. All we can say is that, for animal lovers, one more thing pets give you besides love and affection is added youth. And that's a pretty hard gift to beat.

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