Turning the Clock Back 14 Years

Turning the Clock Back 14 Years
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Four simple health behaviors may cut our risk of chronic disease by nearly 80%, potentially dropping our risk of dying equivalent to that of being 14 years younger.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In 1903 Thomas Edison predicted that “[t]he doctor of the future [would] give no medicine, but [would instead] instruct [their] patient in the care of [the] human frame in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease[s].” A hundred and one years later, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine was born. We still prescribe drugs when necessary, but our emphasis is based on the understanding that the leading causes of disability in the United States, and the leading causes of death, are caused mostly by lifestyle—particularly what we put in our mouth: food and cigarettes.

“An impressive number of studies have shown that lifestyle is the root cause of what ails us.” The good news, though, is that by changing our lifestyle, we can dramatically improve our health. We have the power.

For most leading causes of death, we’ve long known that our genes account for, at most,10 to 20% of risk, given the fact that rates of killers like heart disease and major cancers differ up to a hundred-fold among various populations, and that when people “migrate from low-[risk] to high-risk countries, their disease rates almost always change to those of the new environment.” For example, at least 70% of strokes and colon cancer are avoidable; “over 80%” of coronary heart disease; “over 90%” of type 2 diabetes, avoidable.

So, maybe it’s “time we stop blaming our genes, and focus on the 70%[-plus] under [our] control. That [may be] the real solution to the health care crisis.”

And, it doesn’t take much. “Adhering to [just] 4 simple healthy lifestyle factors can have a strong impact on the prevention of chronic diseases.” Not smoking, not being obese, half-hour of exercise a day, and eating healthier—like more fruits, veggies, whole grains, less meat. Four simple things cut our risk of developing a chronic disease by 78%. 95% of disease risk, out the window; 80% of heart-attack risk, gone. Half of stroke risk, a third of cancer risk; simply gone. Think of what that means, in terms of the numbers. As it stands now, each year a million Americans experience their first heart attack or stroke; a million get diabetes; a million get cancer.

If we clean up our act, do we actually get to live longer, too? Well, the CDC followed about 8,000 Americans 20 years or older for about six years. They found that “three cardinal lifestyle behaviors exerted an enormous impact on mortality.” People “who do not smoke, consume a healthy diet, and engage in sufficient physical activity can substantially reduce their risk [of] early death.” And, by not smoking, they just meant “not currently smoking.” By “healthy diet,” they just meant in the top 40% in terms of complying with the rather wimpy federal dietary guidelines, and “physically active” meant averaging about 21 minutes a day, or more, of at least moderate exercise. Those that managed at least one of the three had a 40% lower risk of dying. Those that hit two out of three cut their chances of dying by more than half. And, those that scored all three flushed 82% of their chances of dying in those six years down the drain.

What does that mean in terms of how much longer we get to live? A similar study on health behaviors and survival didn’t just take people’s word on how healthy they were eating. They measured the level of vitamin C in people’s blood—as a “biomarker” for how many plants people were eating. And, the drop in mortality risk in those nailing all four healthy behaviors “was equivalent to being 14 [years] younger.” It’s like turning back the clock 14 years.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In 1903 Thomas Edison predicted that “[t]he doctor of the future [would] give no medicine, but [would instead] instruct [their] patient in the care of [the] human frame in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease[s].” A hundred and one years later, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine was born. We still prescribe drugs when necessary, but our emphasis is based on the understanding that the leading causes of disability in the United States, and the leading causes of death, are caused mostly by lifestyle—particularly what we put in our mouth: food and cigarettes.

“An impressive number of studies have shown that lifestyle is the root cause of what ails us.” The good news, though, is that by changing our lifestyle, we can dramatically improve our health. We have the power.

For most leading causes of death, we’ve long known that our genes account for, at most,10 to 20% of risk, given the fact that rates of killers like heart disease and major cancers differ up to a hundred-fold among various populations, and that when people “migrate from low-[risk] to high-risk countries, their disease rates almost always change to those of the new environment.” For example, at least 70% of strokes and colon cancer are avoidable; “over 80%” of coronary heart disease; “over 90%” of type 2 diabetes, avoidable.

So, maybe it’s “time we stop blaming our genes, and focus on the 70%[-plus] under [our] control. That [may be] the real solution to the health care crisis.”

And, it doesn’t take much. “Adhering to [just] 4 simple healthy lifestyle factors can have a strong impact on the prevention of chronic diseases.” Not smoking, not being obese, half-hour of exercise a day, and eating healthier—like more fruits, veggies, whole grains, less meat. Four simple things cut our risk of developing a chronic disease by 78%. 95% of disease risk, out the window; 80% of heart-attack risk, gone. Half of stroke risk, a third of cancer risk; simply gone. Think of what that means, in terms of the numbers. As it stands now, each year a million Americans experience their first heart attack or stroke; a million get diabetes; a million get cancer.

If we clean up our act, do we actually get to live longer, too? Well, the CDC followed about 8,000 Americans 20 years or older for about six years. They found that “three cardinal lifestyle behaviors exerted an enormous impact on mortality.” People “who do not smoke, consume a healthy diet, and engage in sufficient physical activity can substantially reduce their risk [of] early death.” And, by not smoking, they just meant “not currently smoking.” By “healthy diet,” they just meant in the top 40% in terms of complying with the rather wimpy federal dietary guidelines, and “physically active” meant averaging about 21 minutes a day, or more, of at least moderate exercise. Those that managed at least one of the three had a 40% lower risk of dying. Those that hit two out of three cut their chances of dying by more than half. And, those that scored all three flushed 82% of their chances of dying in those six years down the drain.

What does that mean in terms of how much longer we get to live? A similar study on health behaviors and survival didn’t just take people’s word on how healthy they were eating. They measured the level of vitamin C in people’s blood—as a “biomarker” for how many plants people were eating. And, the drop in mortality risk in those nailing all four healthy behaviors “was equivalent to being 14 [years] younger.” It’s like turning back the clock 14 years.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

I discuss the role diet may play in preventing the 15 leading causes of death in my 2012 annual review video, Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

How does your diet compare? Calculate Your Healthy Eating Score.

I go in depth on the exercise component in my next video, Longer Life within Walking Distance.

For more on slowing the aging process, see my videos:

For more on my chosen clinical specialty, lifestyle medicine, see:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

37 responses to “Turning the Clock Back 14 Years

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  1. Amazing data and synthesis, encapsulating many important studies.

    I fully believe these data, even though my own bias in the past has been towards randomized trials over observational studies and mathematical modelling.

    I’ve long counselled patients to get active, quit smoking and eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat. I may need to show them this video! Thanks for creating it and sharing it with your audience.

    We also need to give our patients short-term strategies and rewards for improving their lifestyle, as an MI or stroke averted is not typically seen by the patient as a reward in itself (it is hard to be grateful when you don’t experience what you’re missing – e.g. colon cancer, diabetes; the average non-diabetic has no idea how severe and unpleasant some cases of diabetes can become, unless their loved one has the disease). In my own case, I find that dragging myself to the gym to do 30 minutes of intensive physical exercise every day (and I do go every day) can become humdrum and lose value (one starts to think, “why am I torturing myself like this?”). This video does provide useful motivation.

    1. (Disclaimer: no conflict of interest)
      Hi DGH, re ‘dragging’ yourself to the gym every day (very impressive btw), allow me to bring to the attention of all readers what I have found to be the perfect exercise complement to my WFPB lifestyle: the Bellicon rebounder. This simple yet effective home exercise equipment has proven to be some of the best money I have ever spent in my nearly 60 years of beating back entropy on this planet. Not only does this thing get my heart rate up into the aerobic training/fat-burning range, but also I am seeing improvements in overall muscle tone (especially the core) and balance that conventional gym workouts could only dream about providing. And it’s fun to boot! A word of caution: go slow. Our bodies need time to adapt to the G-forces encountered. Too much too soon could cause muscle strain in muscles you didn’t even know you had (like deep back muscles, for example). Anyway, the Bellicon is now part of my daily routine, and — just like my WFPB lifestyle — there’s no going back…to the gym.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebound_exercise
      http://www.bellicon-usa.com/
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZuujTQ4amA

      1. Hi Lawrence, I’m glad you are enjoying your bellicon. I have a cellerciser that I have been using for almost 2 years, and I love bouncing! I also do other workouts, but this is my go to when I don’t want to leave the house. It never gets boring!

    2. Much as I hate giving advice to a doctor…IMO you might do better going with 30 mins 2xs per week and going for a long walk in the country the other 5 days. Quit torturing yourself?
      My theory on exercise is that the benefit is reduced when you get to the point where the bodies necessary repair process overcomes the positive effects? No fun…no gain….

    3. I don’t like going to the gym, either. I find it strange to see people exercise on machines. It’s seems so artificial to me. And the few times I got past those feelings & did it, I was bored out of my mind. It truly was drudgery for me. So instead, I dance (Russian classical ballet), do yoga, walk, & do a lot of gardening (pulling weeds can be very strenuous!). I need some sort of musical, spiritual or earth connection to make it interesting. So for those of you who, like me, don’t like going to the gym, there are so many other ways you can exercise your body. There’s zumba, aerobics, martial arts, & all kinds of dancing. Why drag yourself to the gym when you can find something else that’s enjoyable.

      1. What sort of dancing do you recommend to someone who hasn’t danced in a very, very long time? (and dropped out of the local Fred Astaire dance lessons 8 or so years ago).

        1. I love all the ‘keep it moving’ ideas. Let me suggest my favorite hobby, square dancing. I love it for so many reasons. 1. I’ve met some of the nicest people. 2. It’s very social, we go all over the place and do lots of fun things together. 3. We get to travel since there are square dance conventions all over the place, even the world. And if you go to another country, the calls are all the same and they are done in English. 4. It keeps the body moving and brain active, there are over 100 calls to keep that brain thinking. 5. Anyone can do it, my husband could not dance, but he took lessons 3 times, and now he gets it. And the experienced dancers walk the newcomers through it very graciously. They are always looking for new dancers so they cater to people learning. It’s great fun and I highly recommend it. There are some young people. They have great fun and have lots of energy. But the people are mostly older (I’m 60, and there are many dancers in their 80s). I’ve probably told you more than enough, but if you need more info, you can email me at carjul@earthlink.net

  2. Thanks for this great information. You help me more than you know to stick with a whole foods plant based diet and spend time daily exercising. Smoking and drinking aren’t issues for me. If we could get plants to erase our wrinkles, we would also look 14 years younger on the outside as well as 14 years younger inside.

  3. Your health destiny is in your own hands to a large extent. Genes are just a blueprint, not your fate. This empowers us. Eat mostly plants, dont get fat, dont smoke, exercise – how hard can it be to follow this advice?

  4. Dr. Greger: It is true that lifestyle has an important impact on our health. I have got (3) out of (4) down pat. However, I would disagree that managing obesity is easy because those of us with issues related to thyroid / metabolic / diabetes / physical disabilities have a complicated scenario to deal with that most doctors don’t even treat correctly. I will be tuning in on the Thyroid Summit today with Dr. David Brownstein. A link can be found on Twitter under GreenMedInfo.

    1. I do understand that thyroid disorders can complicate weight management, as well as some other issues, but that isn’t the case for everyone. I don’t think that people with thyroid conditions should just automatically assume they can’t obtain a healthy weight.
      As a person with Hashimoto’s, I have managed to continually lose weight as long as I avoid animal products and processed food and choose healthy options. Anytime I have strayed, I have paid on the scale, but when I do well my body rewards me. I haven’t even added in regular exercise yet, though as I feel better I do find I do more in general.
      The only reason I am commenting is because I don’t want people to get discouraged from eating healthy to manage their weight if they have complicated issues. The “why bother” attitude is one I had for a long time. I really thought I was just cursed to deal with being heavy and feeling awful forever. That isn’t true and I am thankful every day that I learned otherwise.
      The most important thing is to be honest with yourself. Some people can’t mess around with a 70 or 80 percent effort in managing their health. They are sick today and they need a full 100 percent effort to make a real difference. I happen to be one of those people. So if you’re not getting results, take an honest assessment of your efforts and make sure you’re giving 100 percent before you decide it isn’t working for you.
      Thanks a bunch for the link information about the Thyroid Summit. I will definitely be checking that out!

      1. I think the best way to make sure you get your exercise in is to do something you like. For example, I play baseball, skateboard, ride my bike, go whitewater kayaking, hike, garden, roller blade with my dog, etc. Whatever you like to do is much more likely to happen. With bike riding, you can also get errands done, which is a time saver for overworked parents.
        John S

        1. I have discovered pickleball in the past three months and my love of exercise has returned. If you enjoy fun competition and want a racquet sport you can play into your 80s and 90s (I play against two women who just turned 80 and another woman who is 86), pickleball is your game!

          There are a bunch of youtube videos about it (look for Brian Williams’ segment on the nightly news) and park districts are starting to offer programs. Check it out!

          1. Blanster: Thanks for this post! I had never heard of pickleball before. I looked it up after seeing your post and thought of someone who this sport would be perfect for. I might even check it out. Thanks!

  5. This is the first video of Volume 19. This great collection has important information that this vital to good health. It is a must for anybody that wants to get healthy or stay healthy. Yes, you can turn back the clock on your health. You can look and feel younger.

  6. Dr Wahls account of his search for treatments after his MS diagnosis is moving. It’s such a shame that he didn’t find the work of Dr Swank. Thank you Dr Greger for this site – a nutritional gold mine!

  7. Eat healthier. Check.

    Let the Gators Swim Bayou Bowl

    -3 cloves garlic, minced
    -1 small onion, diced
    -1 cucumber, diced
    -1 small yellow squash, diced
    -1 small zucchini, diced
    -1 tomato, diced
    -1 hot pepper, minced
    -1 cup uncooked wheat berries
    -2 cups water/homemade vegetable broth
    -2 tsp oregano
    -½ tbsp chili powder
    -½ tsp white pepper
    -2 organic* apples, diced

    Bring water and wheat berries to a boil. Turn off heat and let pot sit,
    covered, on hot burner, until cooked, about 40 minutes. When wheat
    berries cooked add remainder of ingredients to large skillet. Cook on medium heat and with left over liquid from cooking grains. Continue cooking until water boils. Turn off heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Add in wheat berries, mix and season to taste with pepper.

    *Apples rank 1st (most contaminated) for yet another year and spinach ranks #6 (up two from last year’s 8th) in the “dirty dozen: 12 foods to eat organic” so choose organic. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php

    ~complements of plant-based emporium

  8. I curious about food that could accelerate or boosting the regeneration process, maybe some food that could multiply the Human Growth Hormone (hormone that oftenly prescribed by Anti Aging and Regenerative Medicine Doctors). On the context of catching up the progression on medical science, what food do you would use to make a STEM CELL could proliferate and well differentiated and do ‘their’ job to regenerates the dead human body cell. I really loves the fact that aloe vera could increase the healing time of a burn injury btw :D THX b4

  9. Although Dr. Terry Wahls work and article are cited, she does not advocate for a vegetarian or vegan diet. In fact, she advocates against being vegetarian and discusses specific points in her book THE WAHLS PROTOCOL. She does recommend increasing plant consumption to 9 servings per day, however, but including lean meats, fish and poultry.

  10. My brother and I grew up in Australia; we played rugby, surfed, ran track, played tennis, went on long bike rides, canoed, fished, played badminton. Funny though I don’t remember anybody saying anything about exercise. He turns 70 next May and I’m not that far behind. We still don’t exercise but sure love to continue to pay our sports

  11. What if a 14 year old had this lifestyle? Would he be dead? Or an 18 year old? Would it be illegal to have a relationship with them?

  12. I do not know whether it’s just me or if everybody else experiencing
    problems with your site. It seems like some of the text in your content are running off
    the screen. Can somebody else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them too?
    This might be a issue with my web browser because I’ve had this
    happen previously. Thank you

  13. Anybody else get stuck on the headline on the left side of the newspaper at 13 seconds? ‘Negro who knocked keeper down and escaped captured in Columbus and has been brought back.’ Just wide-eyed and shaking my head and glad it doesn’t say ‘knocked down his keeper’ because that would be just too mind-boggling.

  14. “health behaviors may cut our risk of chronic disease by nearly 80%”, this number is almost certainly low; most likely it’s over 90% . For one, it’s almost impossible to find a group who has / does follow a truly healthy diet and lifestyle (WF PBD).

    And preventing death or living longer is probably a misnomer, maybe better stated – living healthy for as much time as is allotted. There is a saying, which if taken to heart would ease much in the way of caretaker responsibility, “Thy breaths are numbered.”

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