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Part 2

By Dr. Willie Ong

To lessen our readers’ anxiety, I’m listing down the top 20 scientifically-sound ways to add more years to your life. I’ve also placed a level of difficulty for the tips mentioned, from one asterisk to five asterisks: * = very easy, *** = difficult but doable, ***** = extremely hard.

I’ve also listed the amount of health benefit one can expect from that strategy: * = may have a little health benefit, *** = good chance of prolonging your life, ***** = will add many years to your life. Let’s start our countdown with number 20 on the list:

Be a type B personality. More relaxed and less stressed.

One sure way to get a heart attack is to have a workaholic, perfectionist and stubborn personality, the so-called “Type A” personality. In contrast the “Type B” personality is a more relaxed, less time-conscious and less driven person. Type B personalities are able to adapt to problems and are therefore less stress-prone.

For example, try to reduce your targets and goals for the year. Choose your battles and lessen your enemies. Learn to unload the heavy burden and guilt churning inside you.

(Difficulty Level **; Health Benefit *)

Check your vitamins and supplements.

Did you know that there are very few studies to prove that taking vitamins or supplements will make you live longer? In fact, in a Lancet report, Dr. Goran Bjelakovic of Copenhagen, Denmark warns the public that taking too much vitamins can even be harmful. Personally, I take a multivitamin occasionally, especially if I feel a bit weak or tired. If you’re thin, sickly, malnourished or pregnant, then vitamins may help you.

As for other supplements, it’s a case to case basis depending on your medical condition. The best and most proven food supplement out there is Omega 3-fish oil for heart disease. Ginseng and melatonin may have health benefits too but more data are still needed. Be careful what you read and believe.

(Difficulty Level **; Health Benefit **)

Pray (in addition to seeking medical care)

In 2 Kings 20:6, a severely ill Hezekiah prayed to God, and he was granted a 15-year life extension. How we wish it was as simple as that. Recently, Time Magazine boosted the stocks on prayers and healing in their Special Report. In a study of cancer patients, those who confronted their illness through positive thinking, medicines and prayers, lived longer. However, those who gave up on medical care and just relied on prayers alone ended up dying sooner. Hence, use prayers and doctors together. As Sirach 38: 1-2 says, “Honor physicians for their services, for the Lord created them; and their gift of healing comes from the Most High.”

(Difficulty Level **; Health Benefit ** It’s unknown but I believe it.)

Read up on your disease.

Dr. Joslin, the world renowned diabetes expert says, “The educated patient lives longer.” However, you should be able to separate fact from fiction. Here’s a medical secret few people know about: Medical knowledge comes very slowly and through an accumulation of positive studies over many years. If you read a health breakthrough splashed on the front pages, please don’t believe it yet. Diet fads and taking the latest fad supplements may do more harm than good. Wait and wait until the smoke clears up. Just look at what happened to eggs, coffee and hormone replacement therapy. They seesawed from being good to bad to maybe good again. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in between. Read up on your problems but always ask your doctor to guide you.

(Difficulty Level **; Health Benefit **)

Get vaccinated.

My good friends, Dr. Denton Chua and Dr. Anne Marie Lagman-Chua, have made it their passion and calling to immunize Filipinos. They have started a company (called the Immunizers), whose niche is to immunize, give free lectures, and educate the public about each and every vaccine.

Why such an obsession on vaccines? Simple, because vaccines save and prolong lives. Think hepatitis B vaccine. Think polio, rabies, tetanus and pneumonia vaccines. All serious illnesses preventable by a simple vaccine. It’s easy to say that vaccines are costly and doesn’t make you feel better. But once you get hit by these diseases, then it could shorten your life. In a nutshell, vaccines are the thinking man’s strategy to live longer.

(Difficulty Level **; Health Benefit ***)

Limit or avoid alcohol.

Here’s a favorite line from my alcoholic patients, “Doc, I’ve read that red wine is good for my heart.” After a deep breath I ask, “How much red wine do you drink?” “Well,” they sheepishly say, “sometimes I finish a bottle.”

“Drinking in moderation” is a much abused phrase. If you want to know the real score with alcohol, here it is: liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, stomach ulcers, oral cancers, brain damage, dementia, nerve damage, depression, abusive behavior and vehicular accidents. As a cardiologist, I have never asked my patients to drink wine for health benefits. Moreover, I will never advise our youth to drink wine for… argh some miniscule and controversial health benefit. It’s the flavonoids in the grapes that’s supposed to be healthy, not alcohol per se.

(Difficulty Level **** for alcoholics; Health benefit for avoiding alcohol ***)

Do charity work. Join a volunteer group.

In a study involving 3,617 respondents conducted by Prof. Peggy Thoits of the Vanderbilt University, those who volunteered and helped other people had higher levels of happiness, self-esteem and better physical health.

From the Golden Rule to recent business strategies incorporating charity work, helping others has always been the best stress reliever and anti-depressant. Help others and you help yourself. Hence, if you’re depressed because of your illness, then look at your neighbor who can’t even afford to buy medicines. Helping others, especially those poorer and sicker than you, will make you feel more fulfilled and floating with a different “high.” Surely, it will improve the quality and quantity of your life. Try it.

(Difficulty Level **; Health Benefit ***)

Find a good doctor.

A good doctor can help you live longer. If this is true, then it follows that a not-so-good doctor may shorten your life. To be safe, choose only Board-certified doctors. Ask around about your doctor’s reputation and prescribing habits. Are his prescriptions effective, affordable and tailored for your medical condition?

Find a few good doctors and stick to them for life. Having too many doctors can lead to confusion and too many conflicting medicines. Your doctor’s job is to guide you on your check-ups (laboratories, vaccines, cancer screening) and help you decide on your treatment plans.

(Difficulty Level ***; Health Benefit ***)

Exercise moderately.

Recent studies have shown that even mild exercise has health benefits. Because of this, I am wary of exercise regimens where one aims to achieve 85% of the target heart rate. If you ask a sedentary 70 year old guy to reach his maximum heart rate of 150, well, he might reach 150, but then his heart rate will drop to 0. No heart rate. No life. Heart attack due to over exertion. Did you know that there are several reports of fatalities from a routine treadmill exercise test?

The lesson is to exercise safely, gradually and moderately. Moderate exercise has been proven to prevent diabetes, maintain body weight and lessen arthritis. Exercise a minimum of three times a week to maintain your ideal weight and muscle tone. If you plan to enroll in a gym, get a doctor’s clearance first. Try to avoid high impact exercises like basketball and badminton as you grow older. Swimming, brisk walking and taichi are excellent exercises.

 (Difficulty Level **; Health Benefit ***)


Statistics show that, on the average, married persons live longer. For single persons living alone, they may have no one to attend to them in cases of emergencies. Also, single persons may have less social support. On the other hand, married persons find fulfillment in their spouse and kids. I’ve seen successful middle-age businessmen who don’t even know what pills they’re taking. A top executive tells me in front of his wife, “Sorry Doc, you gotta ask my wife. She feeds me all my pills. I don’t know what I’ll do without her.” What a lucky guy!

But don’t feel bad if you’re single. Sometimes, it’s better to be single rather than getting stuck with an abusive and womanizing husband. In addition, single individuals can compensate by having a large support group of family and friends.

(Difficulty Level ***** “Where oh where are the soul mates?”; Health Benefit ***)

In part 2 of this article, don’t miss the top 10 most proven ways to prolong your life. Some tips may surprise you!

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