Mr Parvesh (name changed), a 33-year old, was rushed into emergency department last night with sudden onset of chest pain and breathlessness. He was at his office at 11 PM, when he felt uneasy. He lied down on the sofa outside his office to take some rest. His friends found him unconscious and rushed him to the hospital. On arrival in ER, his pulse and BP were un-recordable. ECG showed features of massive heart attack. He was given the best cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, followed by the best medical care. All in vain, he passed away within four hours. 

Mr Parvesh is not alone. In my practice over the past 25 years, I have seen many young people (mostly men) in their 30s and 40s coming to the hospital with features of heart attack and brain stroke. This is unusual, as during my medical school training in early 90s, we were taught that heart attacks and brain strokes affect only older people in their 60s and 70s or even later. Now, about 40% of people suffering from heart attacks and brain strokes are young people (<50 years of age). 
So, what factors are responsible for this “undesirable” change?
1. Expectations to achieve everything as early as possible: Achievement and success are good things, but not at the cost of health. Young people work long hours. In my interaction with people, I have observed that 13-15 hours work schedules are not uncommon. Add to this, 1-2 hours of commute time, where is the time to unwind? Where is the time to relax with family and friends? Our bodies are not machines (even machines break down, when overused). Heart and brain work best, when working hours are 8-9 hours, with good breaks in weekends.
2. Working from home, working on weekends and even during holidays: Breakthroughs in communication (internet, mobile phones, etc) have their advantages; however, there are drawbacks too. People are in “work-mode” 24X7, 7 days a week, and perpetually. There is no time, when a person totally disconnects from work. Constant work or thought of work takes a heavy toll on the body, especially the heart and brain.
3. Lack of sleep: We need at least 7-8 hours of sleep in order to refresh and recharge. However, younger people are not getting more than 4-5 hours of sleep per night. Demanding work schedules, use of gadgets and late night socializing are some of the reasons for lesser sleep duration. Lack of sleep is strongly associated with higher risk of diabetes, high BP and cholesterol; all of whom are risk factors for stroke and heart attacks.
4. High stress levels: I see many young people in my clinic, belonging to various industries such as IT & software, banking & finance, education, etc. More than 90% of them say they are under stress. Stress is related to jobs as well as personal lives. So, if one felt that not getting a job or not getting married are reasons to be under stress, think twice; those with good jobs and good spouses are also equally stressed, if not more. This cannot be real. Jobs and families need to be cared for and modeled to give joy & happiness.
5. Greed for material things beyond one’s means: Peer pressure is very high. One wants to own a good car and a good house in 30s and even in 20s. As the incomes are low, many end up taking huge loans to fund these dreams. People are also spending more than their means on education of children and vacations. Paying EMIs are no fun! Any unexpected expenditure and reduction in income takes a toll on health and stress levels rise. One must live within their means and avoid taking loans to fulfill the “desires”. We need to be satisfied with what we have and avoid competing with “neighbours or friends” in acquiring materialistic things.
6. Unhealthy diet and habits: Fast foods, irregular food habits and “eating out” have become common. We need to remember, home food is the best and healthiest. “Outside” food is high on taste (due to high amount of salt, sugar and oil) but low on nutrition. 
Most people are not exercising. Moreover, they use vehicles for travelling short distances. Walking as a habit is dying. Most people use lifts and staircases are “hidden” (only to be used in case of emergency or fire)! People sit for long duration (at work, while watching TV, etc). Sitting is as dangerous as smoking, if not more. 
Pollution is increasing- both air and water. Their negative impact on health is well known.
7. Poor financial planning: Younger people do not invest wisely. Either the savings are kept idle in the banks (for a meager interest of 3-4%, which is taxable at the highest slab) or they invest most of their savings in real estate (bought at high prices, with no scope of growth in the near future). The best investment asset class is equity. For someone with less time, investing in equity mutual funds via SIP (systematic investment plans) are the best. You can expect a return of 10-12 % per year (with current tax rate of 10% on the profits, if redeemed after one year).
8. Ignoring health checkups: Our body does give warnings. Any abnormal symptom such as headache, dizziness, tiredness, breathing difficulty, chest pain, etc should be seriously taken and a doctor should be consulted. Even if there are no symptoms, preventive health checkups can help in detecting diseases in early stage, which can be treated well.
So, what can younger people do to live longer and healthier?
1. Find a job that you like (which may not be with the biggest pay cheque).
2. Work for reasonable hours (8-9 hours on average).
3. Cut-off from work when out of office, on weekends and while on vacation (except for occasional emergencies.
4. Take regular vacations with family and friends.
5. Sleep well (on an average 7-8 hours per night). Avoid doing regular night shift duties.
6. Exercise- it can be anything you like, such as walking, jogging, cycling, etc. At least 30 minutes per day and 5 days per week.
7. Prefer home food as much as possible.
8. Keep expenses as per your income. Avoid taking loans as much as possible.
9. Start investing early after analyzing your financial needs and goals.
10. Don’t ignore small warnings about health. Consult a doctor and have preventive health checkups.

Dr Sudhir Kumar MD DM
Consultant Neurologist
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