Lifestyle is the new domain for the Public Health industry, now that the original purpose for their existence - mass disease - no longer exists in the West. But do people actually want to live artificially extended lives with a prolonged and often suboptimal old age? The answer appears, on average, to be no: they prefer quality of life to quantity.
Lifestyle, and especially its implied meaning of choices made deliberately or at least with some measure of volition, is about the way someone lives their life and how that might affect their health and even their lifespan. The factors we are supposed to be able to influence are our environment, work, pressures, activity level, diet, habits, and general consumer consumption especially of materials that may have a negative effect such as alcohol and cigarettes.
In some cases these factors are imposed on us, and actively changing them involves drastic life changes - moving to another area, changing jobs, and so on. These are not impossible for many, but are major life changes. The other aspects, if seen as a negative, are presumed to be easier to change for the better. However, there are two important issues that ought to be discussed:
1. Does changing our lifestyle substantially affect our health and lifespan?
2. What if people in fact prefer quality of life to an extended old age?
The factors that determine our overall health and lifespan are mostly out of our control as these are genetic, maternal, and childhood-related:
So lifestyle is a modifying factor: it is very unlikely you will live till 90 unless this is a family genetic trait; though you might not make it to 90 if your lifestyle choices are not optimal.
In the recent past, at least as far as the UK is concerned, people drank far more alcohol than now; they smoked far more than now; and they ate far more fat and sugar (although their diets per se were much better than today: they ate a great deal more vegetables, much more fish, and comparatively little meat compared to today). They didn't die any earlier and they weren't proportionately more unhealthy though - assuming they got past the dangerous early years and the wars, infectious diseases and work-related diseases such as asbestosis and silicosis; diseases that are treatable today is another cause of death that distorts the issue. It may even be the case that adults who survived the first 20 years of life lived longer than today. (There are plenty of confounders of course, though they tend to even out.)
So in practice they didn't die significantly younger provided that they survived the risky early years, even though their lifestyle choices might today be considered almost lethal. However, their lives were far more active - perhaps many times more so. Every single area of their lives involved far more activity: their work was more physical, their leisure was more physical, and they walked much further than today as transport was considerably less well developed and many factors were different. For example it was common for even young children to walk several miles a day to get to school and back, often alone - this is not just unusual in England today, it is almost unheard of.
So on the surface it looks as if some aspects of diet considered risky today have little effect overall; drinking and smoking have a marginal effect on population health overall even when quite substantial; but overall activity is by a very long way the most important factor. This is a population-level issue, though, meaning it applies on average; clearly, the individual must determine suitable behaviour for their own circumstances.
On balance, you cannot expect to live longer than your family history says is likely. You can shorten your lifespan, but it takes hard work in that regard to make a lot of difference, now that environments and work conditions are safer than in the past. To maximise your potential lifespan appears, more than anything else, to require a lot of physical activity.
What if people in fact prefer an enjoyable life to a miserable, extended one? Is quality of life something that ought to be factored in? Do people actually want to live to an extended old age today?
It is hard to find anyone who wants to live a miserable life, extended artificially to the maximum. Indeed, this sounds like the definition of a life to avoid. Such people may exist but they are not the majority. In general, people want to live urbanised lives of maximum comfort, maximum social opportunity, and minimum effort. These are the lives they overwhelmingly choose. It may be worthwhile pointing out to them that this does not maximise lifespan, but they mostly realise this. They do not choose the life of an old-time religious ascetic, or a rural lifestyle with a very great deal of walking and physical activity. We can try to educate the young with regard to such choices, but if anything they are worse than their parents: they choose sedentary leisure such as video games and TV rather than rambling, cycling or tennis. This is a route to shorter lifespans, but it is a choice made deliberately and with the full benefit of modern information resources.
Does anyone want to live to a grand old age now? It sounds like a good idea until you take into account that the traditional family environment has been completely destroyed, and the elderly often live lonely, empty lives with all aspects of it beyond their control: they live in artificial homes that are like open prisons they cannot leave due to infirmity or financial restrictions. Told what to do, where to do it, when to do it, what to eat, and how to live, their lives often have no purpose any longer. In the words of one senior, they are "in God's waiting room". Parked up and warehoused, they have no real life.
Today, people make an active choice to avoid that situation. They choose to live well and perhaps sacrifice those last years for quality of life while it can be enjoyed; or to ameliorate difficult life circumstances. The cost/benefit is clearly attractive: drink the beer or wine you want now, for decade after decade, and lose a year or two of life in an old people's home. It's not a difficult choice to make. (Assuming there is a significant negative - it is difficult to believe much of the output from those who are known to distort the truth so regularly as the Public Health industry.)
Lifestyle imposition by others is unwelcome and impractical: it has no benefit for most. It comes with advice that you will live longer, when the majority clearly don't want to, these days.
Lifestyle is a matter of personal choice because the quality of a person's life is of far more importance to them than the quantity - how long they live. Nevertheless, the modern Public Health industry has little (or nothing at all) to do now that mass disease is under control and out of their jurisdiction, so they need work - and lifestyle is their new domain. One of the funniest things seen recently is a move among their ranks to re-brand the term as 'deathstyle' in order to try and make consumer and leisure choices seem more important and more serious than they are.
Our parents and grandparents drank like fish and smoked liked chimneys, but still managed to live into their late 70s, 80s, and even 90s, so such choices do not on the whole seem all that important to lifespan in general; genetics and other factors are of far more consequence (all the world's oldest people are or have been smokers, a slightly embarrassing fact; some smoked for more than 10 decades). It looks very much as if the single most important factor people can influence is their general level of activity.
On the other hand, how you live your life is quite important to quality of life: people want to enjoy themselves, and very few indeed want to live a miserable life and survive to 90, especially considering the fact that care and support for the elderly both within the family and in society overall have deteriorated rapidly within the same timescale that Public Health have been trying to extend longevity at the cost of everything else. If PH really wanted to make a difference, they would concentrate in improving the miserable lot of the elderly instead of trying to get everyone into that bracket regardless of the outcome.
Of course, artificially extended lifespans do require decade upon decade of expensive drugs, a useful benefit for those who, strangely enough, are often found to be significant funders of the Public Health industry.
It is often impossible for progress to take place until the old guard go away and die. This is a simple fact of life: those who have been around longest have reached the highest positions of power, and are determined to protect the status quo. Nothing can happen until they go. They believe in outmoded paradigms, and protect old technology and old systems. They stop all progress because, in their view, the status quo cannot be improved; and they have to protect prior positions for reputational reasons, and established processes for financial reasons. All kinds of reasons will be found why change cannot be allowed.
When bars to progress are examined, it will often be found that change for the better is impossible until the people in charge are displaced. Death helps clear away the dead wood. We need it.
What we don't need is a long, artificially extended working life that keeps old fossils in control, well past their sell-by date. If that were to be the norm, we would still consider disease to be caused by miasma, clothes to be made best by hand weaving, and transport best effected by horsepower.
What we do need is for the old guard to just go away when their mental processes become fossilised. Death is our friend. Without it, we would all still be flint knappers.
The propaganda tells us that we should strive to live for as long as possible, at any cost. When will people start to criticise such anomalous and harmful edicts?
"Ironically, one of the crueller side effects of the sophistication of modern medicine is that we have perfected ways of keeping people alive long after any pleasure or meaning has disappeared from their lives. We sentence them to years of mournful inanition, though many of them would happily take their leave while they had a mind to do so."
- Bishop Holloway
Full marks to Bishop Holloway for speaking out against the prison of artificially prolonged lives, without hope or meaning or volition. If only more had the courage to talk about this modern evil. (See Quotes page for the reference.) You may also note that he speaks specifically of pleasure: the enjoyment of life and its activities; you may also be aware that the Public Health industry specifically prohibits any reference to pleasure in any of its materials.
There is a lesson in there for some of us.