Last updateWed, 20 Sep 2017 9am

Your Health

Healthy aging: Add years to your life, and life to your years


Whether your goal is to add years to your life or life to your years, the question is always how to make it happen.

Can we undo the effects of youthful indiscretions? Can we trust the sometimes contradictory health information we find in the news virtually every day? Can we believe what we read on the Internet?

Fortunately, there are places like Stanford Health Library that provide science-based health information. There are also authors who have examined the evidence behind the claims and produced trustworthy books. The two books reviewed provide roadmaps to healthy aging based on scientific research.

A new book, “Living Longer, Living Better: Exploring the Heart-Mind Connection” (Oxford Press, 2011), aims to help those who want to remain healthy for the long haul. Lionel H. Opie, M.D., author and cardiologist, focuses on the relationship between heart health and mental function, providing scientific justification for habits that achieve optimal lifelong health. Because heart disease is the top cause of death in the Western world and dementia is a leading cause of disability, taking care of these two body systems can increase healthy longevity.

Opie sifts through the latest research and grades the quality of evidence behind his recommendations. The introduction to the book includes a review of scientific principles, including relative versus absolute risk; association versus causation; and the three essential criteria that prove the benefit – strong laboratory evidence that the intervention works, population studies (also known as observational studies to show association) and prospective, randomized trials in humans.

Opie boils down the science to make it understandable for those of us without a medical education. He begins with early humans and explains that many of their survival adaptations, such as sodium retention, cause health problems in the modern world. He uses science to explain how we should eat, drink and exercise to preserve the health of our hearts and minds. Medical myths are debunked. At the conclusion, Opie connects heart and mind issues to teach us about achieving mindfulness, reducing stress and enjoying life more.

Do you want to add 10 years to your life? Live a longer, happier existence? Those are the stated goals of “Teach Yourself: Living Longer, Living Well” (McGraw-Hill, 2008) by Paul Jenner. This self-help book, from the popular British “Teach Yourself” series, is full of practical tips on healthy aging.

Its advice is based on scientific and medical research, making it more valuable and trustworthy than your average mass-marketed book. The book includes chapters on diet, exercise, the brain, relaxation, love and sex, and spirituality. I especially enjoyed the chapter on prudence, where readers are told how to protect themselves from cancer (stop smoking, limit sun exposure), alcohol problems and head injuries. The worth of regular medical checkups is validated. It not only explains what we should be doing, but also why we should do it.

The book is detailed. For example, a list of “wonderfoods” itemizes exactly how much of each food we should eat daily or weekly – foods that science has determined are very good for us. Exercise is encouraged, and there are specific instructions for formulating a weekly exercise plan to increase fitness, strength and flexibility.

This is an excellent reference for anyone searching for practical guidance on things to do to increase longevity and promote quality of life.

Both books are available from the Stanford Health Library. The library has many more resources to help readers learn to age in a healthy way.

The Stanford Health Library, for 21 years a community service of Stanford Hospital, is free and open to the public. It has five locations: Stanford Shopping Center near Bloomingdale’s; the Stanford Cancer Center; Stanford Hospital (third-floor lobby); the campus of the Taube Koret Center for Jewish Life at 3921 Fabian Way; and the Ravenswood Family Health Center, 1807 Bay Road, East Palo Alto.

For more information, call 725-8400, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.

Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library.

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