This quote by Thomas Edison describes the doctor I would like to be: “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”
That may be a dream and not reality. Not everything can be fixed with prevention. But today’s doctors and medical system are not the answer to living our best life. A magic pill isn’t either.
We’re doing great at living longer, with a record life expectancy in the U.S. of nearly 79 years. If you’re a man that lives to be 65, you can expect to live another 17 years. A 65-year old woman will likely live another 20 years. So, it’s time to stop focusing on the limitations of aging and turn our sights toward the opportunities that lie ahead.
No one is better equipped to help us learn how to thrive, no matter our age, than the panelists I had the joy of sharing the stage with.
The star of the show, no doubt, was Diana Nyad. No one else can claim to have swum the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida – much less at 63 years old! Who better to help us understand how we can continue to strive for optimal health at any age?
Nyad recalls walking onto a Florida beach after her successful 53-hour swim, after trying for 35 years to reach her goal.
“The first words I said were ‘Never, ever give up,’” she says. “If you want to get to that other shore, you will find a way. The second thing I said was, ‘You’re never too old to chase your dreams.’” And she’s saying that at 65 years old! In the prime of her life.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy’s goal is for us to move to a prevention-based society. Music to my ears! “While we invest a great deal in treatment, we don’t invest nearly as much in prevention and ensuring we are as good at preventing illness as we are at treating it,” he says.
Truth is, we already know what we can do to help prevent many illnesses, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s to some cancers. It just doesn’t come in the form of some magic potion. It’s not the latest superfood. It’s moving, eating less, and eating better. Not too sexy and exciting, but oh, so powerful!
One major point of the panel was bringing together young and old to help all of us get healthier. The Surgeon General is working with the YMCA and its president and CEO, Kevin Washington, to challenge Ys across the country to host intergenerational events this summer to help inspire everyone to move more.
Fernando Torres-Gil, the first U.S. assistant secretary on aging, served as the ultimate inspiration on the panel. A polio survivor, he now dedicates his life to spreading his message that a chronic disease is no reason not to age well.
Then you have Matt Hayek, the mayor of Iowa City, IA – no normal city when it comes to living well at any age. His city was voted the #1 in the Top 20 Small Metros on Best Cities for Successful Aging by the Milken Institute. Well done!
The answer to healthy aging lies within us – to find the drive and motivation to do what we know works. I, and other doctors, aren’t the answer here. You are.