How to Stay Healthy: Don't Get Old

In response to my post on silly hypertension advice, commenter Edgehopper has a great point:


This is something that gets obscured in today's medical reporting--everyone, as they get older, will get sick for some reason and die at some point. The biggest risk factor for heart disease and cancer isn't BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc....it's age. And to a large extent, the incidence of those diseases is random; doing everything right lowers your risk of disease, but not to zero, and usually not to that small a fraction of the risk for the general population. There is no magic set of behavior that will prevent disease; the closest is obvious behavior to prevent cancer like "don't smoke" and "don't zap yourself with radiation on a daily basis."

But there's a big difference in confirmation bias. When a person with good habits and numbers has a random heart attack at age 60, people will be shocked and sympathetic, thinking it's abnormal. When a fat person has a random heart attack at age 60, people will think it's entirely the fat person's fault. In reality, the fat person's risk of heart attack is only slightly higher; most people think that his risk is drastically higher, and his heart attack will confirm the bias while a "healthy" person's heart attack will be discounted as not fitting the pattern.
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In