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UMMC cardiologist supports scientists’ findings to increase life expectancy

Published on Friday, June 1, 2018

By: Alana Bowman

Ponce de León never found the fountain of youth, but research has shown there are five healthy habits that can add as many as 12 years to one’s life.


While these habits might not be as easy to adopt as bathing in a magical spring, Dr. Thomas Skelton, professor of medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, weighed in on why they are important for living a long and healthy life. Skelton, a cardiologist, also shared a few tips on how to make it easier to work these habits into one’s daily routine.

“The human organism is built for and susceptible to habits, some of which are good and some bad,” Skelton said. “It's really about trying to get back to the basics of what's best for our bodies.”

1. Don’t Smoke.

no_smoking.jpgFor a cardiologist, Skelton said this one is the top priority. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you are a smoker, stop. 

“Studies that have looked at smoking cessation show that at any age, stopping smoking has rapid medical benefits,” he said. Two benefits are improved lung function and a lower risk of lung cancer. 

If you are unable to stop on your own, Skelton recommends reaching out for help to programs like the ACT Center for Tobacco Treatment, Education and Research or calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.


2. Get moving.

activity.jpgPhysical exercise impacts the body in more ways than one, Skelton said. The calories burned during exercise help in maintaining a healthy weight, but “the benefits continue even when you are not exercising.”

Exercise helps build good muscle tone which makes one’s body burn more calories even while resting, and it helps lower blood pressure.

Skelton said exercise also can improve a person’s metabolism.

“It changes your body’s metabolism in a way that favors better blood sugar control so that there's less tendency to be hungry and eat improperly.” That means fewer cravings.

“Exercise doesn't necessarily mean getting ready for that 5k or marathon or going to the gym,” he said.

Health care professionals recommend getting at least three-and-a-half hours of moderate-to-vigorous exercise each week for cardiovascular health. Skelton said for most people, walking a mile in 20 minutes would be considered moderate exercise and would contribute to cardiovascular health. He suggested asking a friend along to keep you both motivated.

“If your friend is going to be at your door in five minutes, you are more likely to go ahead and put your sneakers on.”


3. Maintain a healthy weight. 

weight.jpg“I think exercise and maintaining an optimal weight kind of go together,” Skelton said. “They are both really important.”

It is recommended that a person maintain a body mass index, or BMI, between 18.5 and 24.9 for the most benefit. The challenge is that weight gain happens gradually, Skelton said.

“Unless you catch it early, [losing weight] really seems overwhelming. If you really look at what you should weigh, it's not hard at all to be 100 pounds overweight.”

When the goal is to lose that much weight, it can easily be dismissed as something that “will never happen. The key is to know it's going to take a while and start with the first 10 pounds.”

Skelton suggests taking the “easy wins” first. Exchange multiple sugary drinks like regular sodas with sugar-free drinks.

“You could eliminate 1,000 calories a day from your diet if you have been drinking four to six Cokes a day,” he said.

That leads to the fourth habit for a longer life.


4. Eat healthy foods.

food.jpgA healthy diet includes foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and polyunsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. It also means eating less red meat, drinking fewer sugary drinks, avoiding trans fats and limiting the amount of sodium in your diet.

“Compared to what we eat on average, you need such a small fraction of that to actually sustain your body's health,” Skelton said.

Making sure the food one eats has high nutritional value will provide the best-quality fuel to run the human body.

It’s not only about what you eat. How much you drink - of the alcohol variety - adds into the equation.


5. Limit alcohol intake.

avoid_alcohol.jpgFor a woman, that means one drink per day. Men can drink up to two servings of alcohol per day and remain healthy.

One serving can be 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or one-and-a-half ounces of the distilled variety.

“Objective studies have shown the modest benefits of minimal alcohol consumption, the equivalent of a drink a day,” Skelton said.

Not only has excessive alcohol been linked to permanent liver damage and esophageal cancer, it’s full of calories.

“You can consume half your daily allowance of calories in alcohol easily,” he said.

Unsure as to which of these habits you should tackle first?

“I think that if you ask me the most important ones, it's hard to leave out any one of these three: quit smoking, get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight,” Skelton said. “Create a changed lifestyle that you can sustain for the rest of your life.”

If you are ready to start incorporating these healthy habits into your life, but you’re not sure exactly where to start, the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at the University of Mississippi Medical Center can offer help. A lifestyle medicine expert works with you and your primary care doctor to determine your risk factors and health goals and to create a personalized plan to help you reach those goals.

Lifestyle medicine is for anyone interested in being healthier. To schedule an appointment for a lifestyle medicine consultation, call (601)984-2233