Resuming my clinic earlier this week after a two-week holiday, I saw once again one of my favorite patients—a 92-year-old mother of eight, grandmother of 29, and great grandmother of 12. She doesn’t look her age, and her memory is still sharp, probably sharper than many who are 30 years younger than her.
She insists on cleaning their backyard daily, washing her own clothes and preparing her vegetarian meals herself.
A widow for the last 12 years, she still speaks dearly of her husband, recalling from time to time their happy days together, as if he’s just vacationing in the province. She looks forward to their reunion in the life hereafter, but meanwhile she says she keeps herself busy with the things she loves to do, and spends more time with the people she loves to be with.
Blessed with good genes
It is likely that she is blessed with good genes, but she has outlived her five siblings three of whom died before they turned 70, while the other two died in their early 80s.
I asked her once what her secret for her long life is; and she replied, “Kung gusto nating humaba ang buhay natin, pa-ngalagaan natin ’di lamang ang katawan natin kundi pati isipan natin (If we want to live a long life, we must take care not only of our body but our mind as well).”
Indeed, a healthy mental attitude will likely lead to a long, happy, healthy life as well. It’s a decision that one makes; and it requires a conscious effort to be healthy, and remain healthy. Dr. James Chappell, in his book on how to enjoy a long, healthy life, says, “Those who fail to take the time to be healthy will ultimately have to take the time to be sick.”
We can’t rely completely on our genes to keep us in good health. No gene will provide protection to the ravages on the body inflicted by a reckless lifestyle. As a determinant of health, genes can account for 50 percent, but environmental factors are responsible for the other 50 percent.
This means that even if one has good genes, if there are simply too many negative environmental risk factors leading to unhealthy living, one will likely get sick with all sorts of illnesses particularly lifestyle diseases such as cancer, heart and lung diseases. Conversely, even if one is not blessed with good genes, one can still keep oneself healthy by seeing to it that he or she avoids any negative environmental risk factors.
Doctors and healthcare professionals find it sad and ironic to treat so many people who have worked so hard in their younger years preparing for a blissful retirement, only to be stricken with a fatal or seriously disabling lifestyle disease in their 50s or early 60s. It’s easier said than done, so it really requires a strong, conscious and sustained effort; so one has to be constantly reminded that a long, happy, healthy life is something that we have to will and work for.
We have no control on the genes we were born with, but we can definitely control what we eat, what we do, what we think and what we feel. It just doesn’t make sense that we wish for good health and long life, and continue to smoke, drink excessively, eat unhealthy meals, live a sedentary life, work ourselves to death, and harbor negative emotions like hatred, jealousy, envy, or being unforgiving and ungrateful.
So this new year, it’s never too late to make that decision to be physically and mentally healthy. Let’s make a list of specific health goals like attaining an ideal weight, licking a vice, exercising more, spending more time with the family, having much-needed checkups, forgiving that person we’ve long hated, sharing more our blessings, saying “Thank you” more frequently, and all the other things that we promise ourselves to do.
Making that list is just a resolution, or a simple declaration; and as we all know, many new year resolutions are made and usually broken in no time at all. The reason is that new year resolutions are meaningless unless we reinforce it with a firm commitment, strong desire and firm belief that we need them and we can achieve them.
We must truly desire all the health goals that we’ve written down, visualizing daily all the benefits we can reap from them like their impact on our overall wellness, fitness, relationships and productivity at work. And if we backslide, as most of us including myself will likely do, let’s get back on track and recommit ourselves to make that conscious effort daily to avoid eating, doing and thinking of things that will make us unhappy and unhealthy.
Good health, long life and happiness require a simple decision that we have to make. A simple one, but it can be the most important decision that we’ll ever make in our lifetime.