How to Smoke Fifty Cigarettes a Day and Be Healthy

The Old Artist

The other night I was watching television with great interest as a journalist interviewed a ninety year-old bloke who still runs his own business, is sharp as a tack and as productive, funny, creative and happy as ever. He is an artist who sculpts, draws and paints and with the help of his young (sixty five year-old) wife, manages his own successful commercial art gallery. He also teaches (and entertains) budding Picassos.

His positive attitude and his laugh were infectious. He flirted (harmlessly) with the female interviewer, he wheeled out a string of witty one-liners and he was clearly a charismatic, charming and engaging character who loves life. He made the interviewer laugh so much that she had to stop and regain her composure several times.

Finding the Good

During the interview it became clear that our artist was the eternal optimist. He had an amazing ability to find the good and to find a reason to be happy. Not too long after his first wife passed away from cancer he started to have coffee (tea actually) with one of his “sexy young students”, who would become his second wife within twelve months. “I loved my first wife very much, but she wouldn’t want me to sit around moping”, he said.

The other thing which captured my attention during the story was the ever-present cigarette between the fingers or lips of our artist. When the interviewer questioned him about his apparent good health, he put it all down to laughing and having fun. “My goal in life is not money or accolades” he said, “it’s to laugh as often as possible, to do what I love with people I love and to have fun. While others do all kinds of strange things to their bodies and spend their lives worrying about getting sick, my health plan is laughter and fun.”

Confusion

So there the ‘fitness expert’ sat in his hotel room (I was interstate) somewhat conflicted. Here was this old guy who’s been smoking for seventy (or so) years, who has outlived the average western male by over a decade and is still going strong! That’s not meant to happen. Shouldn’t he have died long ago? Throw into the equation the fact that he eats meat daily (apparently that’s gonna kill you), has a beer or two most days and has never been near a gym in his life and you need to ask a few questions. Of course the experts are gonna say it’s just dumb luck or amazing genetics but what if it’s not?

What if he’s done something (consciously or not) which has enabled him to reach his tenth decade on the big blue ball in such good shape despite his lifestyle, despite his lack of exercise and despite his liking for charred animal flesh?

Well, he has.

Killing Ourselves with Stress

Without knowing it (but then maybe on some level he did), he has avoided the biggest health risk in western society; stress (and all the destructive, cancer-causing hormones and chemicals it produces). While so many of his contemporaries have worried themselves into sickness and an early grave, the happy artist has laughed his way into old age.

Consider these factors:

He is passionate about what he does, he experiences joy every day, he laughs a lot, his life has meaning and purpose, he is appreciated and needed, he loves people and is loved in return, he is creative and expresses that creativity, his mind is stimulated and challenged, he is still learning, he is optimistic, he chooses not to worry and he lives a relaxing and fulfilling life.

Now, before you misinterpret what I’m saying, I’m not suggesting that we all run out and buy ourselves a pack of Marlboro and some clay. Of course smoking is harmful, as is an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle. What I am saying is that for some people the biggest determinant of health or sickness in their life will be their ability to effectively manage stress (fear, anxiety, anger). Keeping in mind that situations, circumstances and events don’t produce stress, we do.

Current research

Current research is telling us that more than any other variable, stress will kill us the quickest. Long-term chronic stress will see our body consistently producing high levels of cortisol (a destructive hormone), which has been strongly linked to obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, various cancers and a wide range of other chronic diseases. The precis’ version? Stress equals cortisol, cortisol equals disease, disease equals premature death.

Compare the level of health of Sally who eats badly and doesn’t exercise for a month with her twin sister Julie who is under immense emotional and psychological stress for the same amount of time. Sally gains two kilos. Julie ages ten years and her health declines dramatically.

So, I’m not suggesting that you take up smoking (of course) but I am suggesting that you learn to manage your stress. In fact, while you’re at it, eat well, exercise regularly, live a healthy lifestyle and laugh a lot too. If you don’t already have a stress-management strategy, then now might be the time to make that happen. If you don’t manage it, it will manage you.

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