Stephen Good is a student at Cork University. He may only be in his mid 20s but ten years of smoking and drinking are already playing havoc with his life expectancy. Death may feel a long way off but unless he changes his unhealthy lifestyle now it could be closer than he thinks.
In a few days Stephen will get a complete health screening but first Mark wanted to get a feel for just how unhealthy a lifestyle he leads. Last weekend Stephen drank more than twice the recommended weekly amount of alcohol.
Mark demonstrates to Stephen just how much he can safely drink during a weekend. The recommended healthy drinking level for a male is 21 units a week. 36 percent of Irish males drink more than this. Not only does Mark need to get Stephen to cut down his drinking, he also need to convince him to completely give up the cigarettes. If he gave up before he was 30 he could increase his life expectancy by as much as 10 years. And Mark is not the only one applying the pressure to give up his 120 a week habit - his mother works for the Southern Health Board and gives advice and support to people who are thinking of quitting smoking.
Mark shows Stephen a model of a healthy and an unhealthy lung. He also explains that smoking has the same addictiveness level as heroin. Stephen admits that he has tried to quit many times. Using a graph measuring quality of life against quantity Mark wanted to demonstrate to Stephen that his lifestyle was not only robbing years from his life but also potentially sentencing him to old age full of pain and disability. What worries Mark about Stephen is that his grandparents died early and if he doesn't change his habits he could be heading the same way.
Stephen will have a complete medical. The medical will show Mark exactly what Stephen is doing to his body. A lot of information about Stephen's health can be found in his blood. The first test is for cholesterol which if raised can lead to a variety of serious health problems. A healthy level is below 5. Stephen's result of 5.39 is too high, especially bearing in mind that there's a history of high cholesterol in Stephen's family. We will need to find ways of reducing this over the next 8 weeks. Mark has also asked for other blood tests to check if Stephen's drinking is already having an effect on his liver, which with Stephen's high level of alcohol intake is a worry. The doctor doing the medical then checks the effects of Stephen's smoking.
The Spirometry (or lung function) test will show us if Stephen's lungs are obstructed. With over 4000 different chemicals in each cigarette it's not looking good. Because of his smoking Stephen's lungs are only working at 80 percent of their predicted capacity, but with hard work we can reverse this. It's time to check if his heart is ok. By testing his heart and blood pressure at rest and during exercise it's possible to gauge whether Stephen's heart is functioning properly.
Despite Stephen's near collapse on the machine, at the moment his heart is healthy. As we wait on the results of Stephen's blood tests, including his liver function test, Dr Ryan measures his weight and height from which she can calculate his body mass index BMI. A healthy BMI is between 20 and 25. At 27 Stephen is officially overweight, he needs to try and reduce this to help avoid heart disease and diabetes. Mark was also worried those calorie filled pints could shorten his life in other ways, the results of the blood tests were in. The medical had thrown up some potential problems. Armed with the results it was time to convince Stephen to set off on his journey to a longer life.
Lung function 80%
If Mark can't get Stephen to change he's convinced he could become seriously ill in as little as 30 years.
Stephen Good is a 24 year-old student who works hard but plays harder. His 2 main hobbies of alcohol and cigarettes are seriously reducing his life expectancy A full medical revealed that he was over weight, had raised cholesterol and that his lungs were only functioning 80% as well as they should.
In 8 weeks time Stephen will be tested again. In order to increase Stephen's life expectancy Mark's plan over the next 8 weeks is to increase Stephen's activity levels to at least 30 minutes four times a week, reduce his drinking, cut down fast food and get him to give up smoking.
Just as Mark got Stephen to consider the prospect of life without cigarettes he goes on holiday and surrounds himself with all the things he should give up. Mark worries that he's not taking this seriously. It's been a disastrous start - each cigarette he takes is shortening his life expectancy.
Once Stephen is back in Ireland he decides to begin the plan in earnest We may have lost some time but Stephen's road to recovery begins at the gym. Exercise will make a real difference to Stephen's life expectancy and Mark wants him to realise how unfit he's become. By measuring his breath and blood lactate levels during exercise Mark'll be able to tell at what point Stephen's body is feeling the strain. Stephen's capacity for oxygen uptake at the end of the test is known as his vo2 max. His result is 40.7. A vo2 max of just over 40 means that Stephen is some way from his ideal score of 50. Hopefully he will now realise he's got to change if he wants to live longer. It seems to have worked, after testing his fitness Stephen makes a monumental decision. He's going to quit smoking with the help of a support group and this is to be his last cigarette.
Mark still feels Stephen needs convincing that a healthier lifestyle doesn't mean a boring life... they go surfing. It's been estimated that men effectively half their relative risk of death with just 30 minutes exercise a day. 6 out of 10 Irish men do not take enough activity for health benefits. Mark estimates that Stephen will save ¤4,200 a year by quitting smoking and cutting down his drinking.
Giving up smoking is the biggest way Stephen can increase his life expectancy but it's going to be a monumental task so Mark's decided to keep up the pressure. Smoking accelerates the aging process. As well as attacking the elastic tissue in your lungs smoking also affects the flexibility of facial skin causing an increase in wrinkles, particularly in the thin skin around the eyes.
Lack of oxygen to the capillaries can also make the skin appear grey and unhealthy. Stephen has been made up as 40 year old smoker and as a non-smoker and Mark hopes that by showing him a glimpse of the future he will stay off cigarettes. A week later there's a major setback - Stephen has a cigarette when he's out with his friends. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug and it seems Stephen's battle to give up his old habit is going to be a constant one.
Luckily Stephen is determined to get back on track. To take his mind of the cigarettes he's decided to get stuck into the exercise part of the plan. For the last few weeks he's been running and he is really beginning to enjoy it. He's also changed his diet - he's eating more fruit and veg, more brown bread, and only has a takeaway once a week as a treat.
It's now the end of Stephen's 8 week attempt to add years to his life by increasing activity, eating healthier foods, giving up cigarettes and cutting down on alcohol. He's running for half an hour a day, 5 days a week. He's only lapsed once with the cigarettes. He finds that there's a massive difference to his energy levels. But has all Stephen's hard work paid off, could he live longer? His medical and fitness tests have been repeated and Mark has calculated Stephen's new life expectancy - it was time to let him know the results.