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Doctor’s Notes: For longer life

By Vic Snyder, M.D.
Corporate Medical Director for External Affairs
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield 

There is an old black-and-white photo in our home of a lovely young woman named Thelma, my wife's aunt. Thelma is smiling, sitting with her fishing pole in a small boat on a small lake, delightedly holding up a freshly caught fish.

Born over 100 years ago, Thelma seems like all the generations of women in my wife's family: beautiful, spunky, energetic. But my wife never met her. 

Thelma died in her mid-20s of what the family believes was appendicitis.

Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the annual information about changes in life expectancy. There was some encouraging news. Following three years of decline in life expectancy from 2014-2017 (partly due to the ravages of drug overdoses and alcohol), there was a slight increase for both men and women in 2018. Men born in 2018 could expect to live 76.2 years, and women 81.2 years.

When Thelma was born in the mid-1910s, life expectancy for a woman was around 55 years. Much of the increase in life expectancy is due to good public health measures: clean water, safe and adequate food, effective sewer systems, and immunizations.

The list of public health measures a community now can undertake is much longer. Children benefit from safe playgrounds and parks. Families help fitness and form good lifelong habits by walking and biking on trails established throughout Arkansas. Nutritional information on packaged food and educational programs on meal preparation help families prepare healthy meals. Clean air enhances both quality of life and longevity. Health warnings on tobacco products and alcohol, and campaigns to end tobacco use save lives. Safe well-built roads and good driving habits (seat belts good; cell phones bad) prevent car crash tragedies.

While there is much information available on how to live a healthy, active life and to prolong life, most of us at some time in our lives will find ourselves facing something life-threatening.

The CDC report notes that decreases in mortality from cancers and chronic lung diseases were two of the factors contributing to the increase in life expectancy. Thelma died much sooner than the expected age of 55, probably from something that today could be easily treated. Our opportunities for successful treatment of life-threatening illness are much better.

Another reason to spend time with a health-care provider: Improvements in health-care technology have blessed us with some really good preventive screening measures that can help us have the kind of life we want.

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Cervical cancer screening in women saves lives. And having children get the Cancer Prevention Vaccine for Human Papilloma Virus protects them from multiple forms of cancer.

People with diabetes should have a good eye exam every year to be sure that the diabetes is not causing changes in the retina that can decrease vision. If these changes are found, they can be treated. And staying current with immunizations is a necessity.

There are other acts of prevention your primary-care provider can help you accomplish.

For years to come we all want to be sitting in a boat on a beautiful Arkansas day or watching a grandkid's basketball games.

Our chances of doing those things increase if we take steps toward living a healthy active life, take advantage of the technology available for good preventive health, and be glad we have treatments available when something goes wrong.
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Reprinted from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.