Ham Radio and a Long Life

Hardly a day goes by when you don’t read some new health report. More coffee, less coffee, more wine, less wine, fish oil pills, vitamin E, raw food, some old world fruit that no one has ever heard of – these are all cited by one expert or another as a potential, partial solution to much of what ails us. Especially as we grow older. The indomitable human spirit wants to live forever while the old clay jar is a whole lot less willing.

One of the effects of the many advances in health care that we’ve seen is that there are now enough chemicals, procedures and micro-gadgets to keep our hearts beating longer than that of most of our ancestors who were considered to have lived to a ripe old age if that made it to 50.

Living 80, 90 or even 100 years has become much more common these days but with that advance we’ve seen an epidemic of the ills that regularly attend old age.

Evolution has best equipped humans to be pattern seekers. We look for order in all sorts of chaos – which is why a fluffy white cloud so often looks like a dog or a dead President. Seeing a human face in the random pattern of bark colors on the side of a tree comes naturally to us since it served our survival needs best to see a vine and think it was a snake than to ignore the deadly serpent.

If not the most horrible, then certainly one of the most horrible diseases humans can face is Alzheimer’s. While science continues to look for a miracle drug for that terrible disease, humans look for patterns of behavior that result in lower incidence of disease or a later onset.

For instance, we often promote diet and behaviors that reflect the way people live in a particular part of the world where they live longer and healthier lives. I’m not suggesting that this is a bad idea, but it at least partially explains why coffee is good for you one day and bad for you the next.

Alzheimer’s disease is of particular interest to me because my Mother suffered with it for five years before it claimed her life in 2005. Because of that, I tend to read more news articles about this breakthrough or that hopeful new treatment in the disease.

Nothing is certain at this point but one thing does surface in almost every medical report about Alzheimer’s.

Those who lead more active lives and who remain more mentally active seem to have a higher probability of escaping life without a visit from this disease or the onset of it is delayed. There are all sorts of ideas of what constitutes healthy brain exercise – from playing chess to reading to learning a new language.

Having been a radio amateur since 1977 I have to tell you that I have seen a lot of old hams, I’m talking about a lot of fellows who are over 80 years of age and it occurs to me that they share certain attributes. Things like maintaining a close cadre of friends – either over the air, via the local club, or at hamfests, etc. Most of the older hams have used CW for decades and continue to do so. And most remain fairly inquisitive about the nature and properties of radio – and in the last few decades, many of them have taken to personal computers which offers a new learning challenge.

If you think about the mechanics of Morse, one must hear the sound of it and decode it, often out of the noise. It must then be mentally translated into words – and many operators choose to either hand copy 100% of a message or at least make notes on paper. When it’s their turn to send, they have to think about what they want to say and translate those thoughts into mechanical motion in a particular pattern.

It seems to me that this constitutes as much, and probably a whole lot more brain exercise than almost any other mental function that I can imagine.

Amateur radio is probably too far outside the mainstream for scientists to target it for serious research in this matter. But given the advice that seems to have become standard in this regard I don’t think it’s far out of line to suggest that being an active radio amateur could be an effective weapon in the battle for a clear mind and a higher quality of life for those who have lived beyond the median age.

Frequent medical advice for brain health includes staying physically active, maintaining proper body weight, controlling blood pressure, enjoying a glass or two of red wine each day, and maybe, just maybe they should add – making a few CW contacts each and every day.

After all, there’s absolutely no downside in adopting all of the above.

Jeff Davis, KE9V, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Indiana, USA.

3 Responses to “Ham Radio and a Long Life”

  • Ray N4EAT:

    How inspiring. I am 81 years old and thank the good Lord for ham radio and CW. My Mother too had alzimer and past away at age 70. If only she had been a Ham.

  • Fred W0FMS:

    CW is the secret to longevity? Nah. I will admit that’s the first time I heard that tho!

    I think the real answer (and this is from a “young smart-aleck whippersnapper” of a ham at age 42) is that the demographic age of an average ham is now so high it seems like most hams have longer than average life spans.

    I think radio and communications from it have done more for mankind in increasing the span of life than any other acheivement. The knowledge we gained by making the world smaller more than offsets any risk from RF.

    But having the 75m net at 50 WPM on a frequency your group has “owned” for 50 years isn’t what’s doing it for you. Maybe good genetics…

    Fred W0FMS

  • Michael N5TGL:

    I think there’s something to this. I’m consistently surprised at the age of some of the folks I talk to on the air. 70, 80, heck, I think there was a 90 yr old in there somewhere. The kicker is that they are all SHARP! Not some doddering old person trying to string together some coherent sentances, but the conversation belies their age. Some of these octogenarians I honestly thought were 40 or 50, not 80. Pretty impressive. I’ve heard that mental activity really can be the fountain of youth, the trick is keeping your brain engaged. I think ham radio does just that.

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