Listed below are 14 plausible recommendations to lessen the threat of life-shortening ailments. They venture somewhat beyond the conventional range of suggestions found in health magazines.
1. It is critically important, first, that you choose your parents with extreme care. Make certain, for example, that your mother is older than 20 but younger than 35 when you are conceived. Make certain, too, that both your mother and father are healthy, are not blood-relatives, that they are well-educated and, most important, affectionately compatible with each other.
2. Ascertain that your arrival into this troubled world is eagerly sought after and planned by both of your parents.
3. Make certain that your parents are wealthy enough to provide you with a stable home in a peaceful neighborhood. See to it that you have a bedroom and an identity of your own, and that this home be provided with adequate plumbing. Tell me of the good old days on the family farm with outhouses and I will tell you about 20-percent infant-mortality rates.
4. Keep the number of your siblings small, perhaps no more than two with one of each gender. See that both you and your sibs be encouraged to exercise both your minds and bodies in an intelligent and safe manner. Avoid sports that carry a high risk of contact head injury. Do not confine your studies of the wondrous arts and sciences of the world to your formal classrooms. And be prepared to learn, whatever your age; and as you learn, never relinquish the quality of doubt and the need to verify. Skepticism, tinged with humility, is a worthy characteristic.
5. Physical exercise should not cease after gymnasium classes are concluded. When the urge to lie on a couch to watch television confronts you, jog for a while until the feeling for repose goes away.
6. Take affectionate care of your body, particularly when you are young. Preventive maintenance becomes increasingly difficult when contending with obstructive rust in the machinery. Leave tobacco products to Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Robert Montgomery, Yul Brynner and John Wayne — all of whom died of cancers associated with smoking. Regard alcohol, at best, as an occasional companion and not as the spiritual answer to psychosocial problems. Remember, too, that alcohol is not one of the essential, life-sustaining vitamins.
7. Your diet should be characterized by constancy and moderation. Gluttony one week and anorexia during the next week does not equal two weeks of balanced meals. Cravings for salt and sugar are learned, not inherited. It takes a lot of brainwashing to respond with enthusiasm to a message such as, “Coke is life”; and it then requires a temporary lapse of critical intelligence to equate, uncritically, a watery solution of sugar, caffeine and carbon dioxide bubbles with God-given life.
8. As a resourceful society we have both the time and the means to keep ourselves clean. And while it may or may not be next to godliness, it certainly reduces the risk of earthly infection.
9. Be kind. Do nothing in excess. Nourish friendships, build bridges, seek companionship but fear not isolation. Seek repose, but more important, seek enlightenment.
10. Health is often achieved and maintained by the simplest of interventions: Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Forget this and attaining Enlightenment will be the least of your problems.
11. Learn through secular or spiritual endeavors to respect yourself, know yourself and know the limits of your capabilities. Practice simple surveillance measures to detect the early beginnings of systemic disease. Being accident-prone is not a random phenomenon: It requires both deliberate ignorance and much self-contempt.
12. Go gently, go softly, and always accompanied by common sense. A long and good life is partly inheritance, certainly good care, some Providence but mostly mystery. Be aware of your body and its physical limits. Be attuned to its language, always recalling that most unaccustomed physical sensations are not necessarily symptoms of terminal disease.
13. Life is a precious gift, enriched with infinite possibilities but of finite duration. And remember, too, that seeking immortality, like expecting five years of Red Sox World Series victories, is one of life’s ultimate fantasies.
14. Live solely in the present tense, in the now, not in another period. And wherever you are, be there — not elsewhere.
Stanley M. Aronson, M.D., a weekly contributor, is dean of medicine emeritus at Brown University ( firstname.lastname@example.org). This is adapted from an essay in the September 2009 Jewish Voice & Herald.