I Told You So: Three Ways to Live Longer

So let’s start with a positive image; aviation is in our blood, the taste of freedom, the aroma of fueling-up, the feeling of satiation after a fulfilling flight. Metaphors for what we, as pilots, love to do. But there are other flavors, scents and things that cause one to feel satisfied that are not, unlike aviation, ultimately, conducive to a long and happy life. Things one eats, smokes and drinks.

I know I go on and on in my columns here, in AOPA Pilot magazine, in podcasts, videos, and live events about such things, but to be clear, as doctors what we largely do is rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. You see, the iceberg that sinks most ships—that claims most human lives—is so large, visible, avoidable, and totally ignored: diseases induced by human behaviors.

In preparing this column, I read voraciously, consuming multiple sources of information to best provide my readers with reliable, relevant, and current medical knowledge. Over the years I have written for AOPA, I have been blessed to receive communiques from readers telling me how a particular column or item of advice led them to taking an action that improved or saved their life. Reading and acting upon this information could have the biggest impact for the largest number of pilots.


  1. If you haven’t seen Bob Newhart’s famous sketch on the introduction of tobacco, take a few minutes out of your schedule to watch —it is a classic. Smoking tobacco has been around for thousands of years as part of ancient rituals and used in the broad population for about 500 years. And we know for sure it is awful for your health. In an effort to change the trend to less tobacco use, enterprising—and, I might add, thoughtless—people introduced “vaping” or e-cigarettes. These heat nicotine to create a vapor that one inhales. Got that? Nicotine. One of the most toxic substances on the planet. Please don’t be fooled—that this is a means to help people quit cigarettes is a joke; the companies making these devices add flavors to make them more appealing. In fact, in 2015 the Surgeon General reported that vaping was up 900% in schoolkids who think it is “cool.” Many of these are children who might not have started smoking cigarettes. The manufacturers make them look like everyday items like pens or flash drives. And now the data is in and it’s very clear—vaping is killing and injuring young and otherwise healthy people from an inflammatory lung condition over and above the harm caused by the nicotine and other chemicals. Although you may not use these wretched devices, talk to your kids, friends, anyone who will listen. The only thing one should inhale is air—preferably from the cockpit of a stately old tail-dragger. Now that is “cool.”


  2. Diabetes and heart disease are rampant in the USA and other developed countries and we have known for a long time that sugar consumption is a major culprit. Back in February 2019, the American Heart Association stated that consuming two or more artificially sweetened drinks per day was associated with an increased tendency to form dangerous blood clots and diabetes in those who were obese. Other research has confirmed a link between diet drinks and stroke, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Pretty damning stuff. And recently, a study from Europe, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, followed 450,000 people for up to 19 years. Those consuming two or more 8-ounce sodas of any type per day had a higher risk of dying from any cause than those who drank less than one soda a month. While cause and effect has not been locked down, there is surely enough evidence for me to plead with you to give up these drinks. If you need bubbles, try soda water. If you need caffeine, have a cup of tea. If you need sweetness, consume fruit so that you are also getting fiber to help slow the absorption of sugar. If you want to stop, and going cold turkey is tough, phase the drinks out over a couple of weeks. Also look for triggers that normally inspire you to crack a can and do something else instead. Maybe read one of my AOPA Pilot magazine articles!


  3. I have, as stated, waffled on about food a great deal. And even said that waffles are fine—now and then. But a 17-year-old chap from Bristol, in what is still the United Kingdom, was clearly making a bid for a Darwin Award. He succeeded in making himself ill on a diet of French fries, potato chips, and white bread. His deteriorating health included loss of vision and hearing and the doctors caring for him noted his vitamin B12, selenium, copper levels were low as was his hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying compound in red blood cells, as well as a high zinc level. I have pointed out previously that it is really hard to become vitamin deficient; alcoholics and those on bizarre diets can do it and this poor chap has proven this point quite elegantly, developing atrophy, or wasting, of his optic nerve. Let’s look at the components of his diet:

      White bread: Buy a loaf, open the bag, and leave it on the kitchen counter for two weeks. First, do you notice hordes of vermin or insects lining up to scoff it down? No! They know better. Second, after 14 days it will look, smell, and taste the same. Is that normal for a food?

      French fries: Okay, take the humble potato, now add sugar to add some gloss and sweetness and fry it to add fat. While you are at it, ensure the temperature is just right to convert some ingredients to cancer-causing chemicals. Yummy.

      Chips: Read the above, slice ’em thin, and stick in a container. Now eat. The brand of chip our hero consumed contained 150 calories in just 14 chips. That is 7.5% of my daily calorie intake. And I bet he had a few more than 14.

I am now going to sit back, metaphorically and literally smell the roses, sip a green tea, and nibble on some almonds. I suggest you do the same!

Jonathan Sackier
Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.
Topics: Pilot Health and Medical Certification

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