Five Steps to Living to 100

The Martha Stewart Show, October 2007

These five simple steps can help you add years to your life -- and ensure you get the most out of it.

Step Five: Floss Daily
Practicing good oral hygiene can add up to a full year to your life. What you are trying to do by brushing, swishing, and flossing is reduce the amount of periodontitis-gum inflammation. The thought is that gum inflammation leads to a continuously elevated level of inflammation throughout the body. This can contribute to the development of vascular disease and subsequently increase your risk of stroke and heart attack.

Step Four: Find a Good Doctor and Ask the Right Questions
Finding a good doctor and being inquisitive and proactive about your health can add up to four years to your life by counseling you on the best preventive measures and making certain that important screening tests are done.

How Should We Go About Finding the "Right Doctor"?
Ask a friend, coworker, or relative who is the most like you in terms of temperament if they've found a doctor with whom they like to work. The doctor should excel in a communication method that you're comfortable with. Make sure you're getting your questions answered in a satisfactory way, and be confident in the care you are receiving. Otherwise, you aren't going to be inspired to follow through on the doctor's recommendations, and half of a good medical relationship depends on the patient.

What Are the Questions Everyone Should Ask a New Doctor?
Before sitting down with a new doctor, think about what one thing is most important to you. Is it the medical school they went to? Number of years in practice? Professional organizations they belong to? The research they do? Or is it availability of weekend appointments or ease of talking directly to your doctor during an emergency? Look for the doctor that has the quality most important for you. If you have too many specifications, you may never find just the right one, and the oversight of your care will suffer.

Step Three: Avoid Diabetes
Avoiding diabetes or, if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, keeping your blood sugar tightly controlled can add at least six years to your life -- if not much more.

How Can We Avoid It?
There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is very important in maintaining blood sugar levels in the blood. When blood sugar levels remain persistently high, they cause damage to the blood vessels in your body. Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults and can't be prevented.

However, 90 percent of diabetics are Type 2 and this can be avoided. There is both a genetic link and a lifestyle link to this type. Obesity has been linked to developing it. Exercise and nutrition are obviously important to maintaining a healthy weight, which, in turn, can help you avoid Type 2 diabetes.

What Is the "Normal" Blood Sugar Level for a Person Without Diabetes?
When you go to your doctor to have blood drawn, she always tells you to show up without eating. When she checks your blood glucose level, the number should fall somewhere between 80 and 120 (a little lower is fine if you are not symptomatic). This is one of those numbers everyone should know, especially if family history puts you at higher risk.

Step Two: Avoid Risky Sexual Behavior
Avoid risky sexual behavior. This can add up to 20 years to your life by protecting you from diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, and cervical cancer. Many people may think "this does not apply to me," but it does. In fact, the over-65 age group has among the fastest-growing rates of HIV infection.

Why Are We Seeing These Increases Among Older People?
Well, that's where there's good news. People are living longer and feeling better longer. There are also changing cultural perceptions of what it means to get older, and getting older definitely doesn't mean you can't enter into new relationships and have sex. Also don't forget that sex is good for you. It's a good form of exercise. And not just sex; few things feel better mentally than loving and being loved, and this mental state of being will affect your physical state as well. Just be sure to take the appropriate precautions.

Step One: Keep Blood Pressure Under Control
Almost every doctor's visit starts with someone taking your blood pressure. Here's why: Keeping your blood pressure under control with a systolic number (that's the number on top) lower than 140 and a diastolic (that's the number on the bottom) less than 80 can add up to 22 years to your life.

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