There's been a lot of outrage over outlawing large sodas and banning trans-fats, and some people have complained about the Nanny State. But that's nothing. What if the state really decided to force you to live healthily? The results would be a horrifying dystopia, in which everybody lived to be 120.
Most of us know a bunch of simple rules to improve our health — and most of us don't follow them at all. A few people do eat five to ten servings of local organic fruit and vegetables every day, go for long sessions of varied exercise, brush, floss, stretch, keep their minds healthy with brain teasers to fend off dementia, and then settle in for a good eight hours of sleep. The rest of us have to survive on crap food, mini exercises we do at our desks, and our burning hatred for those healthy jerkwads.
Really, though, these healthy Adonises are lightweights when it comes to optimum health. People complain about institutional barriers to health, when it comes to fresh food and healthcare access — but if a dictator took over and mandated policies to ensure the best possible health, the country would become a terrifying prison. Then again, we would all have a very long time to get used to the horror, thanks to our increased lifespans.
It goes without saying that people in a healthy dictatorship would be chewing mulch and lean protein, washing their tasteless grub down with pure water (although they’d get a half a unit of alcohol per day), and going through rigorous-yet-safe exercise routines. That's only to be expected, and it's just the beginning.
But also, in this new society, everyone would have live the best possible life in the best possible location.
That means mile-high birthing centers. People who spend a significant part of their lives well above sea level tend to live years longer than people who live farther down. Scientists believe that this is due to the relative scarcity of oxygen. It turns out that very, very mildly asphyxiating people for significant portions of their lives can help fight heart disease and even cancer. The body engages processes that allow it to more effectively use oxygen.
Granted, oxygen deprivation is not a solution forever. As people get older, or get respiratory illnesses, they need more oxygen on tap. Not to mention, high altitudes often have hot summers and cold winters, which aren’t good for the elderly. So in our perfect dystopia, people would be born and live their youth in centers on the top of mountains, and gradually move downhill to milder climates and richer oxygen sources as they aged.
That would probably be all the traveling they ever did. Air travel not only spreads infections from one population to another, it doses people with radiation. In flight, people's bodies play catch with more cosmic rays than they do on the ground, where the Earth’s atmosphere shields them. An occasional flight isn’t going to hurt you, but then there are the pilot and crew to be considered. Some worker’s rights groups are pushing to have flight crews classified as radiation workers, and given more frequent check-ups to maintain their health.
What’s more, every eleven years, the sun kicks solar radiation into high gear, and flights dose people with even more radiation than usual. Forget passports. Anyone leaving the country would need health permits and quarantine periods. During flu season and for one year out of every eleven, the country would simply be closed to air travel.
Do you know what lengthens your life? People. Do you know what shortens your life? Disappointing people.
The number one thing that helps extend a person’s lifespan is friends. A decade-long Australian study of seniors noted that people with a large group friends were 22 percent less likely to die over the course of the study than people with a small group of friends. They’re one of the best health supplements you can have.
This might be because friendship is one of the least dramatic relationships anyone has in life. Sure, sometimes friends bring drama, but if a friend disappoints you, you can stop seeing them and it’s not that big a deal. If a friend leaves you, you can find another. Friendship is, in essence, a major benefit to health that poses few health risks. This is why, although any good health-conscious government would mandate a lot of time socializing, the choice and management of friends should be left up to the individual.
A spouse and kids, though — that’s something that the state has to handle. It’s often repeated that a little matrimony leads to a long life. Many studies have been rounded up to say so. Those studies are generally flawed.
For one thing, studies generally claim that marriage is good for people’s life expectancy, when actually marriage is good for men’s life expectancy. Women derive little benefit from marriage in terms of life-extension, and sometimes aren't even included in the studies.
Peppy articles selling marriage also don’t make any mention of the fact that most studies put divorced people in the same category as those who have never been married. It turns out that nothing runs down your life expectancy like divorce. The stress is incredibly hard on people, and it shows in their actuarial tables. When being divorced is no longer counted as never having been married, it’s shown that permanently single and permanently married people have comparable life expectancy.
On those grounds, the government should ban marriage entirely. Why expose people to the perilous risk of divorce and early death, for so little gain? When a person’s familial needs are met with disappointment, the consequences are disastrous.
Having children generally extends a person's life, but trying and failing to have a child chops life expectancy down way below average for couples. While we already have systems of providing people with children -– we don’t have a sufficiently established system to provide them with suitable, and stable, spouses.
To create such a system, we need to redefine marriage as not a match of love, but as a request for a prescription drug at a pharmacy. Some people draw great benefit from having a partner, but the practice can only work en masse when the risks are properly managed by professionals.
Obviously, no data on such a system is currently available. So the government would have to compare and contrast outcomes of various techniques of marriage management. Are people best suited to one, long marriage that they can never get out of — like a med they can't stop taking once they start? What about drop-in, drop-out marriages, that can be filled intermittently by different people, to see what works in the long-term?
There’s always the chance that people would be best suited with a sort of birth-control pill variation on marriage; three weeks on and one week off. The exact method would take time to work out, but it would be better than marriage as it currently is — a divorce-riddled deathtrap.
There have been several studies out there that seem to indicate that nothing kills off people faster than early retirement. The idea has made its way into the public consciousness and sometimes gets pop-culture shout-outs, like the one in Kill Bill 2. One Greek study showed that people who took retirement at fifty-five tended to die much earlier than people who retired later. A study of workers at an oil refinery turned up the same result — leaving work at fifty-five means death.
While some critics pointed out that retirees and workers often get different health care benefits, and that might skew the results of the study, others pointed to something more basic: self-selection. If a person is fifty-four and knows they’re in terrible health, they have no reason to try to save up for a long life after retirement. They want to enjoy the little time they have, so they take early retirement. Someone who’s in good health has to save up because they have a long life to look forward to.
Meanwhile, other studies show that early retirement, taken by people in good health, tends to extend life. Overall, health and enjoyment of the job make the difference. People who are stressed out and sick will benefit from an early retirement. People who enjoy their work and are healthy enough to do it can keep working.
Except on Sunday, when they, and everyone else, need to worship. Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the masses. A couple studies indicate that it might, instead, be justifiably called the high-performance blood pressure medication of the masses. It turns out that religion does, in many studies, seem to promote longevity. Some argue that the religious tend to have healthier habits than heathens, but even those who don't lead a clean life get a longevity bonus. One study found that, even among the religious, a higher level of devoutness correlates to a slightly longer life.
Some scientists attribute this to regular church attendance, which means a built-in community looking after each individual. Other researchers believe that religious belief lowers stress levels and so protects people from stress-related diseases. Whatever it is, it seems to work, and so it has to be mandated. The good news for the dubious is that it works for all different religions, which means that some people can worship anything from long-established deities to sarcastic representations of flying spaghetti. Just get to church.
Let’s say that everything in this new, healthy society is as good as it can get, and everyone is living as long as can biologically be expected. How now can we boost life expectancy even higher? What is keeping us down?
The answer? Men. Once maternal mortality is no longer a factor, women outlast men in every population in the world. Sometimes the difference in lifespan is minor. In India the longevity gap is as little as a half a year. The gap can, however, get up to thirteen years. It’s possible that this difference in longevity can be entirely eliminated with the right health management, but if society gets up to optimum health and men still lag behind — then they gotta go. Especially as we've seen in earlier sections that they’re not holding up their end when it comes to increasing the lifespan of their wives.
That being said, as far as we know we will always need men to continue the human race. The challenge then would be to keep enough men around to continue a healthy population, while keeping them to a minimum in order to maximize average lifespan in the total population of humans. That will take some experimentation. It won't be a pretty business.
But isn’t it worth it, to be healthy?
Top Image: Joel Nilsson
Wedding Ring Image: Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil
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