November 7, 2012

Why Clean Living Is The Right Way To Go

“Veronica and I are trying this new fad called jogging. I believe it’s ‘jogging’ or ‘yogging’, it might be a soft ‘J’, I’m not sure. But apparently you just run for an extended period of time.” – Ron Burgundy.

I know two things. First, this is not the first time you will have read a quote from ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ on redOrbit. And second, if I know my fellow writers on this site, it won’t be the last.

And, thanks to a study out of Northwestern University, I now know something else. Adopting a healthier lifestyle, including adjusting your diet, engaging in regular sustained exercise and actively seeking to lower your stress levels will give you an extra 14 years to live on this planet.

Clean Living Movements, a term coined by Ruth C. Engs, Professor of Applied Health Sciences at Indiana University in 1990, refers to crusades that are waged for health-reform and typically are rooted in a moral imperative that eventually leads to an awakening of the popular consciousness. What we see in these crusades are individuals or group reformers who give rise to a plethora of individual causes each seemingly linked to the others. Recent examples include the anti-tobacco or alcohol coalitions. They can address a perceived health problem or aim to “clean up” our society.

The United States, along with the UK and other Western European nations have experienced three of these large movements over the last 180 years. They tend to be cyclical in nature, occurring approximately every 80 years. The main thrust of the movement will usually focus on changing people’s behaviors, even through implantation of legislations that may or may not be successful. Following that is a eugenics movement that tries to explain how heredity may or may not be at the root cause of the undesired behavior. This is usually the time when popular reforms are enacted that will focus on personal hygiene or sanitation. However, a backlash will be almost inevitable to reforms that have been recognized as highly restrictive. One excellent example of this was the repeal of the 18th amendment that criminalized alcohol sales and use.

The first two eras (Jacksonian and Progressive) were responsible for not only raising and implementing prohibition efforts, but also targeted groups like Irish immigrants and Roman Catholics who were blamed for excessive drinking and the spread of cholera. Also out of these movements arose two new religions that espoused “pure” lifestyles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Seventh-day Adventists.

Anti-Smoking efforts began, somewhat in earnest, during the Progressive Era Clean Living Movement that was in its heyday from 1890 to 1920. Anti-smoking laws were passed that prohibited smoking in public buildings. Trains, restaurants and streetcars offered smoking and non-smoking sections. However, as anyone who is a frequent viewer of AMC’s ‘Mad Men’ knows, these laws became almost universally ignored by the mid twentieth-century.

Narcotics also received attention during this era, with laws and regulations on them extending to the content of patented medications. Also, in 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed that regulated not only the labeling of these medications, but also the claims of the efficacy that was made in advertising for the medications. This would be a pre-cursor to today’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Prejudices were extended to the influx of Chinese immigrants during this era, with respect to opium usage. Prohibition of cocaine was bolstered by claims and anecdotes about crimes committed by African Americans who were thought to be under the influence of the drug.

The “purity” movement, basically an anti-prostitution movement, addressed the ills to society brought on by poor social hygiene (STD’s) and seemingly went hand in hand with the elimination of other supposed evils, like alcohol, from society. A eugenics movement sprung from the purity movement, seeking to eliminate the double standard of sexuality for men. We saw the implementation of pre-marital testing to ensure neither partner had syphilis. Also, sterilization efforts began with a focus on those suffering from mental or physical health issues, including alcoholism, aiming to bar them from reproducing. Sterilization laws made it onto the books of over 30 states during this time.

The era we are currently in, The Millennial Era Clean Living Movement has been characterized by a yo-yo like reaction/counter-reaction process. As examples, the “women’s liberation” movement was met with resistance by the “pro-family” movement; an increase in marijuana use was met with a “war on drugs”; drinking age went down before it went back up; sexual liberation was countered by a new “purity” movement; and the ever-present abortion issue has been under constant agitation since the passage of Roe v. Wade.

But the 1970’s brought the broad social consciousness around to the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Like Ron Burgundy above, there was little concrete knowledge about the how’s and why’s, but many embraced healthier actions and choices. The then burgeoning health club industry is now a ubiquitous part of many American’s lives, with an estimated 51.4 million of us possessing membership cards to one gym or another.

This brings us back to the study recently conducted at Northwestern University in Chicago and published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Dr. John T. Wilkins, an assistant professor of medicine, cardiology and preventative medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and lead author of the study, claims that individuals who have optimal heart health in middle age may live up to 14 years longer than their peers who are afflicted with two or more cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors.

“We found that many people develop cardiovascular disease as they live into old age, but those with optimal risk factor levels live disease-free longer,” said Wilkins. “We need to do everything we can to maintain optimal risk factors so that we reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular disease and increase the chances that we’ll live longer and healthier.”

Wilkins and his fellow researchers used data culled from five different cohorts that are included in the Cardiovascular Lifetime Risk Pooling Project. They focused on the participants’ risk of all forms of fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular disease, starting with age groups at 45 years and increasing by a factor of 10 years through to the age of 95.

At the beginning of the study, all participants were free of CVD. Data that followed the risk factors was collected: blood pressure, total cholesterol, diabetes and smoking status. The researchers’ basis for the study was to observe the outcome measure, which was any CVD event that included fatal and nonfatal coronary heart disease, all forms of stroke, congestive heart failure and other CVD deaths.

The team was able to determine that individuals who presented the optimal risk factor profiles typically lived an average of 14 years longer, free of total CVD, than those who presented two or more risk factors. By gender, they found men, in middle age, had a lifetime risk of around 60% for developing cardiovascular disease, and middle aged women were at around 56%. The lifetime risks for cardiovascular disease were strongly associated with a risk factor burden that was continued or present in middle age.

The average longevity has been on a steady increase. The eras we discussed above may not have been carried out in the best and most sensitive ways possible, but their messages have followed a long, slow evolution that has worked to improve the general health of the individual, and the society, at large.

We are witness to the next phase of the Millennial Era. It appears to be focusing on just what and how much we put into our bodies. Whether it is the proposition in California that is calling for proper labeling of genetically modified foods or Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s crusade to limit the intake of sugary beverages in New York, the arguments have their proponents and detractors. While some of the science has not yet reached consensus, the motives are clear. Though we are living longer, there is still much we can do to make ourselves healthier. And the healthier we are, the less of a burden we are on a strained healthcare system.

I guess I know one more thing. I’m about to go for a “yog”.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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