Unlocking tips for a longer and healthier life

Oct 21, 2017

One doctor doesn’t want you to be his patient. As a medical oncologist and palliative care specialist at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Edward Creagan sees patients fighting for their life every day. Joining us to discuss his book "How Not to Be My Patient: A Physician's Secret for Staying Healthy and Surviving Any Diagnosis," Creagan also reveals some of his tips for living longer and healthier lives.

Changes to your diet and exercise regimens are usually recommended ways to improve your health, but the types of relationships you have and how happy you are also play a vital role.

Diet and exercise

Many people find it hard to fit a healthier diet and exercise regimen into their daily lives, but small changes could be key for living longer. Changes in your diet, like decreasing the amount of animal fat you consume and relying more on plant-based protein, can not only enhance your quality of life but also combat certain diseases.

“The evidence is overwhelming and compelling that a plant-based diet enhances quality of life, and enhances length of life under the umbrella of all sorts of diagnoses whether its cardio vascular disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s type dementia,” says Creagan. "So the plant based diet or the Mediterranean diet is based upon green leafy vegetables, colorful vegetables, [and] legumes; with a decrease in processed foods such as certain sugars; and a focus on protein from plant based structures."

While 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise four to five days a week is recommended, fitting activity in doesn’t mean going to the gym. Moving a little more each day and incorporating exercise into your daily routine is just as effective as going to the gym to swim or use the elliptical. 

"I tell many of our patients: take the stairs, park your car several block away from where you work," says Creagan."If you have 45 minutes at lunch, bring your own lunch. Don’t stand in a cafeteria line. Eat your lunch respectively. Turn off the computer. Don’t check email. Don’t check Facebook. And spend 20 minutes simply walking. So if we commit ourselves we can make a difference." 

Positive relationships and meaning are key

Happy people live longer, according to Creagan. The type of relationships you form and having a strong support system can also lead to a long life. A study with Harvard alumni showed that powerful relationships helped people live longer. Powerful relationships affected length of life more than money or material things.

"Harvard Medical School has produced a fascinating alumni study of graduates from Harvard going back to the 1930s. And the most significant factor in survival, the significant factor in the long life, was relationships and joy," says Creagan. "It was the power of the relationships that drove wellbeing for these Harvard graduates. Loneliness kills us."