This quote from a recent Blue Cross Blue Shield report makes me nervous: “...older millennials (age 34-36) have higher prevalence rates for nearly all of the top 10 conditions than did Generation X members when they were in the same age range (age 34-36). With younger generations facing health challenges at earlier ages than previous generations, measuring the health of millennials is critical to improving this generation’s long-term health and wellness.”
This is why I like to work with millennials, catching it early. I was a casualty of stress, receiving a diagnosis of premature ovarian failure after too many years of unbridled chronic stress. I am on a mission to turn that around for others.
I think of prevention as similar to starting a 401k at the age of 30 instead of 50. Prevention wasn’t discussed much when I was growing up and if I had been more aware of it, I like to think I would have done a few things differently like pay more attention to sleep hygiene, stress levels, and exercise frequency (I was a bit of an over-exerciser). As John Kennedy said in 1962 in his State of the Union Address, "The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."
My father was a pharmacist and I grew up believing that pharmaceuticals were magical healers and that if and when I became sick, they would heal all ailments. I was unaware that in many cases pharmaceuticals often just keep symptoms at bay instead of healing the dysfunction. Not to say all pharmaceuticals are bad, but they can cover up the problem rather than address it.
Fortunately, there is so much more research now about the positive long-term effects of diet, stress reduction, sleep, exercise, social engagement and sauna (had to include because I’m addicted). Perhaps the science just wasn’t there yet and that is okay, but it is emerging now so we have more options.
My passion around Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) prevention and brain health really hits home now as I recently learned that pharmaceutical companies are beginning to pull away from AD research. Anyway, the success rate of pharmacology for AD is 0.4% meaning that 99.6% of drugs being researched for prevention or treatment of AD have failed.
Maybe there really is no magic pill that can beat preventive behaviors.
So how do we prevent AD? There is no definitive answer to that other than to die young and we don’t want to do that. Modifiable lifestyle behaviors that seem to improve the health of our mitochondria may be the best option: diet (including intermittent fasting), blood sugar regulation, sleep, exercise, stress management. I would also add social engagement and depression management as important factors for health. The best part is that we don't have to wait for FDA approval for these magic pills.
Essentially, lifestyle behaviors recommended for brain health are the same behaviors recommended for increased health span. Since I began my personal AD research many years ago, my focus has shifted from boosting brain power to understanding that to have a healthy brain we must strive for overall health.
We are all at risk for disease (cancer, diabetes, infection, dementia, etc.) so why not focus on prevention before we have symptoms? Why would we wait until we are in a disease state? What holds us back from doing that? Perhaps it is the same reason many of us don't start saving for retirement in our 20's: we cannot imagine ourselves at 70 years old and often make an assumption that all will be fine because we are fine now.
From personal experience I want to add that if we are having symptoms now (GI issues, hormone dysregulation), address them as quickly as possible because the sooner we address dysfunction, the less harm it will do to our bodies in the long-term.
Begin by depositing healthy behaviors into your Prevention Savings Account (I made that up, obviously). In my view this means checking your labs regularly, staying on top of blood glucose, hormone levels, oxidative stress, inflammation, sleep, stress, emotions, relationships and social engagement.
As a natural procrastinator, I understand why people aren’t proactive. Tomorrow is so attractive!
I'm heading to the gym now for a 30 minute sauna session. As the ancient Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”