Posted by: drdata921 | August 1, 2014

Life’s Tradeoffs

Having just moved to Pensacola, Florida I had to find a new primary care physician. This week we met for the first time. After the obligatory light chatter (where are you moving from, why did you pick Pensacola, how do you like it?), we got down to business. We discussed my family’s medical history and my lifestyle. We talked about how I handle stress and what I do to cope. Then he poked and prodded, breath in, now exhale, do it again. And, so it went.

Then he leaned forward in his chair and gave me one of those serious looks like he was going to tell me something really important (I am sure that they practice this is medical school). “Don,” he said,” there are three things that are very important that you do! I want you to significantly reduce your wine consumption. I want you to stay out of the sun. Finally, make sure that you consume as little salt as possible.” The salt thing is the easy one. If you cook at all, you will know that you can substitute lemon juice for salt and the taste is actually better. So, scratch that one off of the list.

The other two recommendations are the bewildering ones. Ok, so I do consume a glass or two of wine above the recommended limit each night. However, I exercise each day, I don’t smoke, and I watch my diet. I thought that three out of four was pretty good. Besides, I enjoy the wine. But, now my PC is saying drink less.

Next, he told me to stay out of the sun. But hey, this is Florida. The place is called the “Sunshine State.” It’s on the license plates. There is water everywhere. The outdoor lifestyle is why we came here. If I can’t go outside, I might as well live in a closet. Besides, I use sunscreen most of the time and I thought that a little tanning glow would make me look sexy. “Don”, he said, “the ozone layer has been depleted and the sun is especially intense in Florida. You need to protect yourself. Tanning means skin damage.” What a bummer!

This whole discussion was reminiscent of a quote that I once heard: “Eliminating wine, women, and song from your life will not really make you live longer, it will only seem like it.” I can’t remember the author, but there is some wisdom to that quote.

So, this whole conversation got me thinking about the tradeoffs that we make in life. Sure, I can stop my wine consumption and stay indoors. However, it’s the old argument about quantity versus quality. Are you willing to sacrifice some years from your life to live a more enjoyable life? I am not questioning my doctor’s wisdom. He is tasked with helping me to stay healthy. It is up to me to determine how to make that life fulfilling and enjoyable and the tradeoffs I am willing to make. If I shorten my lifespan somewhat, but it brings me more joy then so be it! It’s not like the choices are live forever vs. die young.

It was time to do some more research. Previously, I made a blog post about a website that would allow you to respond to questions about lifestyle, family history, and nutrition. After you filled out their questionnaire, you would be given an estimate of how long you would be expected to live and some suggested changes that would help extend your life. For those of your who are interested, you can look in the July 2013 archive of this blog or go to: (https://www.livingto100.com).

I went back to this site to see what it recommended I do. After completing the questionnaire I was informed that I would likely live until the age of 87. Since the average lifespan for males in my cohort is about 84, I was thinking that maybe three out of four was not bad.

However, there were some things that I could do to extent this. If I learned to control stress better, I could add about ½ a year to my lifespan. By the way, I think that I have that one solved; it’s called retirement!! Next, if I cut back on the number of my fast food restaurant visits each week, I could add another ½ year. Since, I currently frequent fast food restaurants less than once a week, this would mean never going. I can live with that. Finally, I could add another year to my lifespan if I cut back further in my red meat consumption.

Curiously, they did not mention wine consumption or sun as an opportunity. I am not questioning the wisdom of my doctor. He sees a lot of patients and has been trained in these matters. However, I think issues relative to quality of life are worthy of consideration. Besides, nobody will live forever and in the time scheme of a normal life, a couple of years seems inconsequential (although at the moment of death, I am sure you might want to reconsider).

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on quantity vs. quality (i.e. living longer vs. living better). These are choices that we all make. Perhaps it’s not always an either/or proposition. Sometimes you can have both. However, many times it is. What’s your perspective?

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