Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Worried sick...achieving wellness?

I always enjoy it when a good curmudgeonly antidote comes along to temper bright eyed optimism. Such a contrast is provided by Zuger's review of very different books by Snyderman and Hadler. Synderman:
With chirpy, can-do optimism...recapitulates the standard wisdom. Watch your diet, exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, be screened regularly for a variety of dire illnesses, rein in cholesterol and blood sugar, stay in touch with your doctor and be sure to check out those aches and pains pronto, just in case. So speaks the medical establishment.
While Hadler:
..who is a longtime debunker of much the establishment holds dear...reminds us...we are all going to die...holding every dire illness at bay forever is simply not an option. The real goal is to reach a venerable age — say 85 — more or less intact. And the statistics tell Dr. Hadler that ignoring most of the advice Dr. Snyderman offers is the way to do it.
An excerpt from Hadler's book:
Daily, we are offered the image of the baby-boom generation going on forever, making impossible demands on successive generations to provide pensions, health care, and community. That, too, is fatuous. However, more of us are living longer than did our parents. Clearly, the likelihood that we will enjoy life as an octogenarian has increased over the course of the twentieth century. Far less clear is whether the likelihood of becoming a nonagenarian has increased similarly. It has certainly not done so at anything like the same rate as the likelihood of being an octogenarian. The effect is so striking that it has caused many of us to wonder if there is not a fixed longevity for our species, set around eighty-five years of age. Some have likened this to a warranty: you are off warranty at eighty-five, beyond is a bonus, and well beyond is a statistical oddity. This projected demographic is consistent with current population trends. With one caveat, these hard facts seem unlikely to change. It is possible that molecular biology can alter the fixed longevity of our species. But don't hold your breath. None of us will live to see that — and maybe no one ever will.

Eighty-five (+/- a little bit) appears to be the programmed life expectancy for our species. I grant that the science is imperfect. But eighty-five is a linchpin of my personal philosophy of life. I, for one, do not care how many diseases I harbor on my eighty-fifth birthday, though I prefer not to know that they are creeping up on me. I, for one, do not care which of these diseases carries me off as long as the leaving is gentle and the legacy meaningful. Perhaps the best we can reasonably hope for is eighty-five years of life free of morbidities that overwhelm our wherewithal to cope, then to die in our sleep on our eighty-fifth birthday.

1 comment:

  1. For a moment I thought you were going to talk about neuroimmunology. :(

    But curmudgeon-ness is good. I think Hadler's advice on this is astute. Perhaps when 2073 rolls around I will make some sort of evaluation of my present physical state if I'm still alive and decide whether further medical treatment for whatever illnesses I have is worth it.