Imagine being 101 years old, upright and strong, still working part-time or volunteering, having an active social and intellectual life, feeling happy to be alive, and being able to walk and lift and swim and bend. That’s not a fantasy. To a great extent, it’s your choice. By making good decisions about how you want to live, you can prevent illness that robs you of your health and old age.
That’s the message of fitness buff Dennis Kravetz, who obviously walks the walk. An award-winning psychologist, health educator, and bestselling author, he radiates good health.
In his new book, A Sound Mind in a Sound Body (2013), Kravetz presents dozens of impeccably researched, science-based strategies for improving fitness in four key areas: physical, cognitive, psychological, and nutritional. He says good health in each of these four essential areas has a major impact on how long we will live.
The book has four parts corresponding to the four key areas of fitness. Each part starts with a quiz to help you determine your physical, cognitive, psychological, or nutritional fitness. He then summarizes the most important scientific studies related to health and longevity in that area. Finally, he lays out exactly what you need to do to achieve maximum fitness, translating the research into actionable tips.
For example, in the physical fitness section of the book, Kravetz convincingly shows that by getting the recommended 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week — which is really not that much when you consider all the benefits — you greatly reduce your risk of dying from the major diseases that shorten our lives. These include cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, many forms of cancer, and Alzheimer’s. If you could greatly reduce your chances of dying from any of these diseases, why wouldn’t you?
In the cognitive fitness section of the book, Kravetz offers a number of specific strategies to keep the brain functioning at its peak. Some of these are what one might expect, such as doing word or number puzzles that tax the brain. But others are surprising and fresh — ideas I haven’t seen elsewhere. For instance, he suggests a kind of active TV viewing, where you choose programs that are challenging rather than merely entertaining, and then ask yourself, perhaps during commercials, to recall what you just saw and learned.
He also recommends this type of “active” engagement when reading a magazine or visiting a zoo or museum. You read an article or some signage, then you reiterate it. In effect, you’re creating memories and making new and deliberate connections in the brain. This technique also improves memory retention.
I also loved the section devoted to psychological fitness. Stress, depression, and anxiety accelerate the aging process; Kravetz cites research linking negative states of mind to life-threatening health conditions. Particularly original were the studies he collected about state of mind. It turns out that you really are only as old as you feel. Research has shown that people who feel young, who believe they are vital, and see their future as promising typically live longer and healthier lives than those who internalize negative messages about age and illness. Learning how to manage stress and depression is also key to psychological fitness, and he offers tips on how to cultivate a positive mindset.
Not surprisingly, all four areas of fitness — physical, cognitive, psychological, and nutritional — are interrelated. If you exercise your body, exercise your brain, become psychologically healthy, and eat healthfully, you improve health in the other three areas too. Kravetz calculates, based on many studies, that you may be able to live up to 22 years longer than if you only focused on one or two of these areas!
A Sound Mind in a Sound Body is a great combination of scientific research, useful health information, and highly practical strategies, all presented in a smart, well-organized format that’s easy to understand. If you were to follow all of the advice in this book, I feel confident that you’d feel amazing and look as good as Kravetz does himself. Is it okay to be obsessed with living a long life, maybe even a superlong life? Why not? It’s better than being sick and feeling bad. Read this book and live longer. I highly recommend that you do both.