How Your Life Affects Your Death, and Everything In Between
If you’re reading this, you might not know how important your life is for your death. According to, well, all of science, 100% of humans will die in their lifetime. That means at some point in your life, you will die. Sounds depressing, I know, but bare with me here as I demonstrate how important it is that you live well so you can die (and age) as well as you possibly can.
Since I was raised in modern Western society, I recognize that I have been pretty removed from the concept of death. Traditional European society has a habit of making death more “beautiful” and clinical than it really is. Almost everyone in my family has been traditionally embalmed, placed in a casket, and buried six feet under the ground in a cemetery next to their loved ones. This all sounded normal to me until I really started to question why Westerners we are so afraid of what death looks like. Why are we so disturbed by how death looks while we are all too complacent with our body’s health while we’re alive?
One theory I have as to why we make death look so sterile is because the loss of a loved one is a very abrupt and jarring confrontation about our own mortality. To a certain extent, Westerners want to believe that our impact on our communities will supersede our inevitable demise. So, to take care of this, we preserve our bodies as an (almost) pristine version of what they were in life. However, I am here to tell you that it is of little consequence what happens to our bodies once we pass (grieving and memorial purposes aside). Once we have died, nature takes its course, and no amount of preservation will keep our bodies in life-like “fresh-ness” forever.
It matters what we are doing with our bodies NOW. The majority of individuals in Western society worrying about what will happen to their bodies after death have a great deal of control over what happens to their bodies while they’re alive. The choice is literally in our hands, and in our modern technological era, we have access to accurate information on how to sustain a healthy and well-adjusted body as we age.
Below are three of my favorite tips that will help you to honor your body, be a healthier human down to the microscopic level, and help you age with less chronic pain and disease that we have seemed to accept in our Western culture.
You Need to Sleep
The best thing you can do for your health is to drop the Western idea that less is more. Well, when discussing sleep at least. For whatever reason, hyper-productivity is glorified, and you get brownie points if you only slept for 3-4 hours. There’s even more praise when you do this consistently while remaining productive. NEWS FLASH: no human can maintain a thriving lifestyle like this. There are life-threatening illnesses that develop when you don’t sleep, and I know it sounds dramatic, but people DO die from not sleeping enough. To continue on with my sleep soap-box, you need to be getting quality sleep when you shut your eyes at the end of the day.
According to researchers, even a single night of sleep that only consists for four hours induces insulin resistance to multiple metabolic pathways in healthy individuals (Spiegel, Leproult, & Cauter 1999). Furthermore, when connected to mental and emotional health, “REM sleep [is] incredible for palliative emotional benefit. It’s not time that heals all wounds, but it’s time during REM sleep that provides emotional convalescence.” Loss of sleep is shown to increase negative emotional reactions during disruptive daytime experiences. And if that isn’t enough to convince you to get more quality Z’s, according to a 2001 study, cancer patients who were in remission one year after their diagnosis were shown to have significantly more dreams than those who were not in remission (Walker, Van Der Helm 2009).
When we choose (and yes, I mean choose) to not prioritize our sleep, we are literally disrupting our most basic and vital biological functions at the microscopic level. In order to get a better night’s rest, plug in your electronic devices across your bedroom, don’t stare at a cell phone, computer, TV, etc. for an hour before you go to bed, and remember, your bed is for sleeping and for sex. We psychologically train our brains and bodies to associate our beds with other more productive functions when we work in, study in, eat in, our beds.
Get Your Sweat On
What if I guaranteed that you would feel cleaner after your sweat than you did before? I can guarantee that you will be cleaner from the inside out after you work in a good sweat session. Aluminum in our bodies is excreted five times higher in sweat than in urine. Cadmium is excreted 10.6 times higher in sweat than in urine. Lead is excreted 14 times higher in sweat than in urine. All of these heavy metals I listed above have been associated with negative health consequences in scientific studies (Genuis, Birkholz, Rodushkin, & Beesoon 2010).
Studies out of Finland have shown that sitting in a sauna at 174 degrees F for just 20 minutes two-three times per week lowered cardiovascular disease mortality, lowered Alzheimer’s disease risk, and lowered the all-cause mortality rate (Laukkanen, Khan, Zaccardi, & Laukkanen 2015). The news gets even better. Research has shown that if you sauna more frequently and for a longer duration, the benefits only increase from there. Sauna has positive benefits on the growth of new neurons, on retaining our muscle mass, and on how our brains age (Tytell 2017).
Bottom line? Go to the sauna if you want to age better.
Yes, Balance is a Thing, but Pay Attention to What You Put in Your Body
I’m all for a lifestyle full of balance and pleasure. I want to take my week-long cruises full of mojitos, butter, and chocolate cake. I don’t want to worry about going to the gym when I’m sick or injured. I won’t cave into diet culture and obsess about everything I eat. However (and this is a big HOWEVER), we have to be conscious about what we’re feeding our bodies. We can even take that a step further and say that we are able to change genetic pathways and our neurological health with the foods we use to fuel ourselves.
It’s important to get a balanced range of healthy proteins, carbs, and fats. We know this, and whether you eat everything, are vegan, vegetarian, ovo-pesca-whatever, you can and SHOULD do this. Beware the diets that tell you to cut out entire macro-nutrients. I understand that this can be helpful for some serious auto-immune and digestive diseases, but for the most part, everyone should be getting their nutrients from all three major groups. And this isn’t difficult to do when you take the time to do your research.
Did you know that parsley can strengthen neural connections in our brain and also causes neural stem cells to differentiate into neurons? This is an imperative function for learning and memory as we age (Gottschling 2016). Let’s talk about mushrooms: they’re a really good source of beta-glucans. This is a fermentable fiber that increases beneficial bacteria and reduces non-beneficial bacteria in our intestines.
Speaking of mushrooms and other plants that absorb what they’re planted, buying organic foods isn’t a snobby thing to do. I know budget is a factor here, but a general rule of thumb is to buy organic foods that don’t have a peel or shell. Some examples are apples, peaches, grapes, mushrooms, lettuce, etc. For the most part, foods like bananas, oranges, and avocados are okay to eat when they’re not grown organically. However, trying to eliminate as many chemicals and pesticides that enter the body will increase longevity and brain health as we age (Le Couteur, D. G., et al. 1999).
Remember, it’s good to be picky about your health. It’s the most important thing you can invest in while you’re alive. Regardless of how old you are, don’t wait until the effects of aging, chronic disease, pain, and poor gut health take the quality out of your later years. It’s empowering to know we are in control of how we live so we can age and die in a healthier, more peaceful manner.
For anything aging and nutrition related, check out Dr. Ronda Patrick's Instagram and YouTube pages (both are called Found My Fitness). Trust me, just do it.
“Figure 2f from: Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic Revision of Rochefortia Sw. (Ehretiaceae, Boraginales). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e7720. Https://Doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e7720.” doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f.
Laukkanen, Tanjaniina, et al. “Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events.” JAMA Internal Medicine, vol. 175, no. 4, 2015, p. 542., doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8187.
Le Couteur, D. G., et al. "Pesticides and Parkinson's disease." Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy 53.3 (1999): 122-130.
Spiegel, Karine, et al. “Impact of Sleep Debt on Metabolic and Endocrine Function.” The Lancet, vol. 354, no. 9188, 1999, pp. 1435–1439., doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(99)01376-8.
Tytell, Michael. “Faculty of 1000 Evaluation for Sauna Bathing Is Inversely Associated with Dementia and Alzheimers Disease in Middle-Aged Finnish Men.” F1000 - Post-Publication Peer Review of the Biomedical Literature, 2017, doi:10.3410/f.727251443.793528132.
Walker, Matthew P., and Els Van Der Helm. “Overnight Therapy? The role of sleep in emotional brain processing.” Psychological Bulletin 135.5 (2009; 731.)
Genuis, Stephen J., et al. “Blood, Urine, and Sweat (BUS) Study: Monitoring and Elimination of Bioaccumulated Toxic Elements.” Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, vol. 61, no. 2, 2010, pp. 344–357., doi:10.1007/s00244-010-9611-5.