As a health professional, I am passionate about more than simply improving people’s lives through surgery. Instead, I look at the full potential and capabilities of the human body and try to envision ways that we can, individually and collectively, improve our daily lives.
As many of you know, I am a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who champions positive change through boosting women’s voices, encouraging collaboration between inventors, scientists, and clinical researchers, and expanding the ways that technology can inform all areas of life and research. My studies in eSports, for example, while unconventional, are an important area of study that sports medicine has yet to fully encapsulate.
For today’s blog post, I want to highlight one of my areas of interest which is the active, aging body, and the ways that technology can support healthy aging. This post is derived from an interview I did with the Innovation Unleashed podcast, hosted by the brilliant Dr. Alan Russel.
What does it take to live longer and to live more
My research around age and reducing chronic illness in America started when I was in medical school. What many people don’t realize is that while there are evolving technologies that are capable of improving our health and wellness, aging technology and living more must first come from wanting to live longer and healthier lives.
Changing our mindsets around health and the aging body
For decades, we’ve been told that as a society we need to exercise more, avoid high-risk behaviors, and eat more fruits, vegetables, and proteins. Unfortunately, little has changed in our collective behavior. So for today’s society, the big question around health and aging focuses on what needs to happen to change our societal decline into obesity and unhealthy aging.
A recent study conducted by a team at Harvard Medical School calculated that 20 to 40 percent of cancer cases, and half of cancer deaths, could be prevented if people successfully stopped smoking, avoided heavy drinking, kept a healthy weight, and spent just 30 minutes a day exercising.
Although many of us may understand that smoking causes 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths, most don’t know that obesity increases the risk of esophageal, colon, pancreatic, and other cancers or that heavy drinking elevates instances of colon, breast, liver, and head and neck cancer.
With these findings, it is easy to recognize how health and preventative medicine, like lifestyle changes and increased activity, can dramatically flip the script on our understanding of cancer. If cancer can be prevented, then there is no need for a cancer-eliminated medicine or drug. The drug is in the physical activity and the motivation to keep the body moving!
Finding our purpose
Understandably, humans might be born with a genetic condition that is out of their control. But for the most part, we control our destinies in terms of health and wellness.
So when I talk about living more, I am talking about not giving in to the myth that aging is an inevitable decline from the vitality of youth to the frailty of old age. In switching our mindsets about aging, we also need to redirect our intentions towards our life’s purposes and the goals that we have for staying alive.
We will age, but how we age is our decision. I want to live more in every moment and be healthy, vital, active, and joyful in the decisions that I make. What about you?
If we, as a society, took more responsibility when it comes to personal health and wellness, we might not be faced with the reality that, for the first time in 100 years, our longevity is decreasing.
Behavioral scientist Dr. Victor Strecher from the University of Michigan suggests that health and certain behaviors are related to having a purpose in life. Through a number of different studies, Dr. Stretcher has shown that if one is connected to a purpose in one’s life, one is able to do the kinds of things we’re talking about—improving one’s health and personal wellness and living healthier longer.
While I find it interesting that not everybody is connected to that idea, simply getting that message out to vulnerable groups can drastically improve our societal health perceptions and our healthy habits.
Sending the message
After a recent trip to my hometown in rural America, it was clear to me that chronic diseases are rampant and people have lost hope in regaining a healthy lifestyle. So delivering the message that having a purpose in life can drive a positive change in health is very important. However, how do we as a society make sure that that message reaches everybody that needs to hear it?
One way of getting this message out is through generational change. We are not dealing with one generation of people needing to make decisions, but instead, we are talking about two or three generations of people who have accepted a lifestyle that is killing them early and killing them hard.
Unfortunately, right now, we have three generations of leading women who have lost what it means to be healthy. And if your grandma has been unhealthy and your momma has been unhealthy, chances are that you, as the daughter of the family, will also be unhealthy.
So, how are we going to reverse three generations?
We have to start over in a way that is similar to the restart that happened when this country adopted recycling and green initiatives. Once we decided to integrate recycling awareness into the curriculum of younger children, we started to see real, positive change. Schoolchildren now know how to sort their waste; and my own nine-year-old chastises me when we’re standing in front of the disposal bins because I don’t know what goes where, but she does.
Somehow, we have taught a generation of children how to be conscious of our environment. Let’s start over. Let’s start with the fifth graders before it is too late. By educating young children, we can reverse generation habits, and those children can in turn teach older generations new healthy habits.
Through generational education, it is possible to reverse our decline. If you educate the eldest daughter, you can change a culture.
Making the change
People believe that at some arbitrary age, you get old and you start dying. But the fact is, researchers in the area of pure longevity and active aging have shown that no matter what your age or your skill level, you can reverse the hands of time. And knowledge of science can help us make this change.
This body that we’re given is a dynamic and changing organ. One thing that we were led to believe a few decades ago is that we were given one brain, one body and we should not waste it. But, actually, we know that is not true. We know that our bones replace themselves every 10 years through tissue regeneration. Our body takes out minerals, puts back minerals. Our brains also regenerate.
Dr. Phil Tyronne shows that even 90-year-old people in nursing homes can increase their function 150 percent by sitting in chairs and doing a little bit of mobility or exercise therapy.
Another example of how powerful the body can be lies in the story of the oldest Pearl Harbor veteran, U.S. Navy veteran Ray Chavez, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 106. At the age of 101, he decided that he wanted to be a part of Pearl Harbor’s 75th-anniversary celebration. For three years he worked with a trainer to build up 20 pounds of muscle so that he could sit on a six-hour plane ride and attend the ceremony.
Now, you don’t tell me that if the World War II vet who is 104 years old can make a decision to improve his strength and mobility, that the rest of us can’t invest a little time in ourselves.
Future technologies to support healthy, active aging
Understandably, massive societal change isn’t going to happen overnight. And medical technology, exponential technologies in particular, can make significant progress in how we understand evolving bodies.
To start, innovations that aid us in understanding our genomic character and our personalized predispositions will go a long way in allowing doctors to provide personalized healthcare and treatment options tailored to our genetic profiles.
Other innovative technologies to look out for in aging and preventive medicine include 3D printing, which is a technology that can now be purchased for use at home! Affordable 3-D printers are going to put health care in the hands of a billion people who have never had it before.
With these exponential technologies, we are soon going to be able to take a piece from a tumor, grow some T-cells to attack it, and get rid of cancer at the biological level. That’s exciting to me because it seems like we’re finally going to cure an errant stem cell, which is all cancer is anyway.
Living in the moment
Medical science is there. Innovation is there. And most decisions regarding our health are in our control.
And yet we’re still dying younger than we were before. This shows me that it’s a personal decision problem.
What we really need to do is take a hard look at our societal self-worth. If we don’t think we’re important enough for healthy living and living longer, chances are we aren’t going to.
But the truth is that we are worth the daily investment in our health:
You as a person are worth it.
Your children are worth it.
Your co-workers are worth it.
We’re all worth it.
But frankly, we have to come to believe that we are worth it.
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