Point of View: Living long and healthy is basic human nature

By George H. Tsai

It’s safe to say that 99 percent of people in the world, civilized or uncivilized are trying everything possible to maintain good health and to prolong their lives. It’s human nature.

However, a small number of religious zealots and cultists take exception to that. Those fanatics believe death is better than life. That horrifically hit home, literally, last week.

The self-immolation of Falun Gong members in Beijing early this year is another example. Also, a few years ago, a California cult group of young intellectuals took poison en masse before the predicted passage of a comet. They thought it was time for them to depart for space through death.

Earlier, the Davidian Christian followers, many of whom were children, apparently were burned to death in a confrontation with law enforcement people in Waco, Texas.

Despite the continued growth of population around the world, almost all governments as well as many private institutions in the developed countries, especially the United States, are trying their utmost to improve health conditions of their people and to eliminate dreadful diseases like cancer and heart ailments. We are much healthier and live longer than our parents, thanks to the rapid inventions of new medicine, better nutrition and, among other things, the fitness clubs. According to a recent media report, the average American man can now live up to 74, a woman to 79.

We can prolong our lifespan through rational lifestyles — good eating habits and exercises. Besides, we must find ways to deal with stress and bad environment. People should start doing those things in their 20s.

I am not a centenarian yet, nor do I have any intention to play doctor offering any advice about longevity. But I have learned something about longevity from my observation of people who have lived into their 80s, 90s and even 100s. I have noticed that active people are generally happy and healthy. Happiness and health are undoubtedly linked to longevity.

As the saying goes, “activity breeds longevity.” We should keep ourselves busily occupied mentally and physically. Reading and writing can keep us mentally sharp; doing domestic chores, tending garden plants, working out regularly or walking the dog once a day can keep our heart and muscles strong and promote harmony among family members

Former President Carter, 76, stays healthy by spending his post-presidency as a writer, diplomat and leader of the Habitat home-building project for the needy.

Here are three examples to prove that activity is good for our health:

U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond from South Carolina will be 99 on Dec. 5.

A senator since 1954, Thurmond said a few years ago that he would continue to represent his state if re-elected, even though he has slowed down quite a bit physically. His current term expires in 2002. It seems he enjoys a busy life and gives little time to think about his age.

A friend who cooked three meals a day for years for his children and grandchildren lived to 97. He attributed his longevity to his active lifestyle, optimism and altruism.

Eight years a go, I read a news story about a young nurse falling in love with a 92-year-old man, who walked to a hospital to visit his dying wife every day, rain or shine. Finally, he lost his wife to cancer, but he won the heart of the nurse, who was moved by his daily journey to the hospital and his good health.

Many scientists think heredity plays an important role in longevity. Comedian Bob Hope, 98, said in a TV interview years ago that there is a longevity history in his family.

Loneliness can hurt. More often than not, this happens to elderly widows and widowers with children living far away from them. In America, it’s now hard to find families with three generations living together. To avoid solitude, some old folks travel to chase their dreams or to hit pay dirt in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Yes, a great majority of the casino players are senior citizens. And an awful lot of seniors also play bingo at local churches or community centers. Some work as volunteers at hospitals or as crossing guards for schools. And many retirees volunteer their time to teach English in foreign countries, where they are well received.

Traveling, gamblingand volunteering do help them lead an active life. A sedentary lifestyle, as well as anger and worry could cut life short.

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