“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to >The Saturday Evening Post> print magazine. >Subscribe> to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive.
I’m sure you, like I, are stressed by bad news confronting us at almost every turn, from Afghanistan to the COVID pandemic, now with its Delta variant, to climate change causing fires and floods, to shootings, to political misadventures — the list goes on and on. But if we step back for a moment, and view our world from 35,000 feet, there is some good news.
Consider life expectancy, for example. In the mid-1600s, the average British person lived just over 30 years. A child born in the U.S. today, some 400 years later, can expect to live an astonishing 50 years longer. We have doubled our life expectancy since the 1900s primarily by reducing childhood deaths tenfold. Advances in scientific methods leading to medical breakthroughs such as vaccines and antibiotics, public health innovations, and improved standards of living have given us and billions of others around the globe an additional 20,000 days of life to enjoy.
Starting in 1918, the Spanish flu killed as many as 100 million people, or an estimated 5 percent of the entire world’s population in just two years, mostly concentrated during the devastating 12 weeks in the fall of that year. The mortality rate of those infected approached 20 percent in many places, such as India, and was concentrated in the 20- to 35-year-old age groups. More people in those age groups died from the flu than the total number of deaths of people older than 60 from all causes. Life expectancy in the U.S. fell by an entire decade.
In contrast to the Spanish flu, COVID’s mortality has been focused on the elderly, often in two stages: initial damage to the lungs by the virus, and then damage by the person’s inflammatory response that can affect multiple organs. With the Delta variant, we’re also seeing younger populations infected and dying. While deaths from COVID don’t approach the 1918 calamity — estimated between 4 and 5 million worldwide — it has reduced U.S. life expectancy by about a year, and two years for the African American population. So many of the deaths are unnecessary. It continues to amaze me that people resist getting vaccinated against COVID or wearing a mask. The absurd conspiracy myths concocted by the antivaxxers challenge anything I might write in a fantasy novel. We often hear the lament from someone dying of COVID, “I wish I had gotten vaccinated.”
There are many things we cannot control, as I’ve indicated recently, but those elements in our power such as diet, stress, body weight, physical activity, sleep, blood pressure, cholesterol, and not smoking — and yes, to a certain degree, COVID — can help make us healthier so we can enjoy those extra days. Don’t waste them — they are now. Play with your children, love your spouse, read good books, relish your hobbies, and interact safely with relatives, friends, and neighbors. Life is too short to squander, especially by making choices that lead to ill health.
Featured image: Shuttertstock
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