Simple Gratitude: Learning the Key to Healthy Aging

By Paul Savage, MD

As a doctor coming up on 60, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to age well. It’s important to make healthy lifestyle choices in areas like nutrition, exercise, and sleep. But over the years, I’ve found that one basic ingredient must come first: gratitude.

Traumatic Trajectory

My life started in a small Michigan town. As the more introverted and less athletic of twins — the youngest children in the family — I grew up shy, quiet, and alone. My friends were comic books. My adventures were in science fiction. Intelligence was my strength.

When I came out as gay at 15, my dad tried to drown me in a lake. I guess he thought I’d be better off dead than living as a “faggot” in the ‘70s. Off to college at 18, I spent a year begging my mom to let me come home. My parents felt I should stay to “fight my demons.”

Eventually, fear of being on my own morphed into anger at being pushed away. I turned to alcohol. And I let my anger change me. It fueled my need to study and learn — the only things I felt I could control. From medical school and residency through 10 years in the ER, I saved everyone I could. Meanwhile, I descended into alcoholism and depression.

Midlife Resurgence

When I looked up at 35 years old, I was a mess. I had significant heart disease, high blood pressure, and borderline diabetes. I drank, smoked, wasn’t sleeping, and weighed 265 pounds. Finally, it hit me: If I didn’t change soon, I was going to die.

I fixed my diet, learned about detoxification and supplements, started on testosterone, and practiced martial arts every day. And within 18 months, my body fat was under 15% for the first time in decades. My emotions felt secure, my sleep returned, and strength surged through my body.

Eventually, I discovered the importance of balanced hormones. I used this knowledge to start a business. And it took off, growing into a network of more than 50 centers practicing bioidentical hormone replacement therapy across the U.S.

Something Missing

After four years of hard work, it all fell apart. I had to walk away from the business I founded, with just a few dollars to show for it. Fear, anger, and hurt returned.

I spiraled back into alcoholism. I started smoking again. My weight skyrocketed. And again, I was faced with my life-threatening friend heart disease. I was in worse condition than ever.

From my previous go-around, I learned that I could change everything — for a little while. But I had failed to consider my soul, my heart, and my spirit.

I found a wonderful life coach who said something shocking. She told me I was one of the most ungrateful people she had ever met. I was stunned and confused. What did she mean, ungrateful? Me?

I had survived my dad’s attempt to drown me. I had survived my college years and become a doctor. I had survived the illness of my 30s. I had survived alcoholism. I had survived the loss of my business. I had survived all this, but I persisted in framing myself as a victim. I saw all these events as failures and not for what they were: miracles.

Practicing Gratitude

My life coach taught me what was lacking in my previous attempt at health: simple gratitude. She prescribed action — an expression of appreciation — not a change in perspective. I didn’t need to believe in the process; I just had to do it!

So every morning, after I walk the dogs and prepare for work, I sit in front of my computer and list everyone and everything I appreciate. And often, I watch this video:

True health begins with gratitude. Until I cleaned my emotional house — all the retained anger, fear, hurt, and sadness — I couldn’t sustain the physical and mental portions. Now, a decade has passed, and I’m not only grateful but healthy as well.

If you don’t clean up your emotional toxins, the rest won’t hold for long.

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