Painting Ourselves Green

December 21, 2011


We talk about living “green”, using less physical resources and leaving more for future generations, but what about ourselves? How can we paint ourselves green? What if we want to live our lives in a more sustainable way so that we enjoy life fully and actually live longer?

There are some basic ways we can live our lives that will increase our odds to live better and longer. We may look to studies by Dr. James Fries which show that if we keep our weight in a normal “ideal” range, exercise three times a week, and don’t smoke we will live in better health up to 10 years longer.

Long Term Studies
Compression of morbidity means to compress or shorten the time period of ill health (morbidity) down to our last few months instead of over several years. Not only is our suffering greatly reduced, but the period of enjoyable time is extended. We may live the same length of time, but there will be much more quality time. We will postpone illness for as long as possible.
This greatly effects whether we need to save for long term care or reduce the need insurance for long term care. We know long term care is expensive, currently about $3000 to $5000 a month. We could burn through our savings at the rate of $60,000 a year or more. Long term care insurance is currently about $200 a month and rising. We may not have to save very much if we only need it for a few months.

In 1980 Dr. James Fries published a hypothesis of compression of morbidity in the New England Journal of Medicine . The theory states that since chronic illness and disability occur in late life, that cumulative lifetime disability could be reduced by primary preventive measures. This would result in an increase in the age at the time of disability with a shorter time of disability.

University Alumni Study
In 1998 Fries reported a study of 1741 university alumni whereby they were placed in high risk, medium risk and low risk groups based on level of smoking, body mass index, and exercise patterns. Persons in the high risk group had twice the disability of the low risk group. They concluded that persons with better health habits survive longer and that disability was postponed and compressed into fewer years at the end of life .

Running Club Study
Fries performed another study of 537 members of a running club compared to 423 community members and found that exercising persons developed disability at the rate of one-fourth that of those that did not exercise, muscle pain was reduced by 20 percent and medical care costs were 25 percent less for the exercising group .

Fitness Club Study
In a study of a fitness club group, the members had postponed a major chronic illness more than 12 years compared to the normal population.Other studies have reinforced Fries theory.

A summary of Fries work may be seen at

We can shorten the time we suffer, shorten the time we are dependent, and lengthen the time we live. We can do this while making most of our remaining years enjoyable, active and independent.

The Major Choice
We will have a time period of ill health (morbidity) at the end of our life span. It is up to us whether it is a few months or several years. We choose if most of our later years are spent in relatively good health and if the end will come quickly. Several long term studies have shown we can make lifestyle choices that return huge dividends in the form of many later years of an active productive life .

"Happy, healthy, happy, healthy, happy, healthy ... dead".

Our Numbers
Keeping your waist size, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol in the healthy zone dramatically reduces your risk of many problems, including cardiovascular disease. The combined effect is huge. It can make your RealAge as much as 19.8 years younger.

Living Longer in Community
We may look to studies of communities where people live longer and find out why. What is it that they do that causes them to live a longer a better life. We can adopt our lifestyles to these principles and make ourselves more sustainable.

National Geographic  studied several groups of people who have an extraordinary number of people living over 100 years old. These groups are located in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, California.

The common similarities among these groups are:
• non-smoking
• putting family first
• being active every day
• keeping socially engaged,
• Eating mostly fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

These populations have a high number of centenarians, suffer a fraction of the diseases that kill others; and enjoy healthier years. They seem to avoid the chronic illnesses that we get. Each of these groups had unique ways of living.

We can surround ourselves with other people who believe in “painting ourselves green” and continue to learn as we grow older.