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Russian gets a bad rap for the health of its citizens. The United States consistently ranks about thirtieth, just ahead of Cuba and just behind Denmark in measures of public health, but do statistics tell the whole story?

Western media have been consistently critical of healthcare in Russia. For about a decade, they have been carrying stories with headlines like these:

  • Life Expectancy Continues to Fall in Russia
  • Despite Armies of Doctors, Russian People Do Not Get Need Medical Services
  • Spending on Health in Decline After Falling Oil Prices
What other country is also so disparaged in the Western press? The answer would be, of course, the United States. In November of 2015, the headlines in the US newspapers noted that death rates for middle-aged white Americans were rising, not falling. Announced by recent Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton and his Princeton University colleague Ann Case, these statistics show that this "mom and apple pie" group of Americans was dying at accelerating rates not from the "big killers" like diabetes and heart disease but from heroin overdose and the complications of drug addiction and alcoholic liver disease. These new headlines tell us that Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 with no more than a high school education are dying at a rate 30 percent higher than 15 years ago. The increase of deaths due to drug and alcohol abuse in this group in the United States has no parallel except the AIDS epidemic.
 
However, other statistics about health in America have not been as widely publicized.
  • A number of counties in Georgia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma registered shorter life expectancies for women in 2010 than in 1985. In over half of the counties in the United States, women's life expectancies did not rise during the same period.
  • There are huge discrepancies in life expectancy across the United States. People in Marin County in the redwoods just north of San Francisco, California have a life expectancy of 85 years. This is among the highest in the world. On the other side of the country, men living in McDowell, West Virginia can expect to live to 64 years, which is slightly lower than Pakistan.
A reasonable question from these statistics is, are people in these two countries being cheated out of long and happy lives? I would argue that they are not, for the simple reason that there is more to life than how long one lives and how many illnesses are avoided. Quality of life takes on meaning that cannot be measured statistically. Here are seven examples.

1. Effective people recognize when things are not OK.

Suppose you are experiencing chronic insomnia. You just can't get all the sleep you feel you need. Or suppose you have aches and pains that just won't go away. You can't quit shoveling snow or carrying groceries or playing with the kids just because your back hurts all the time. Or suppose you feel like you need alcohol to function, or you are chronically lonely, or you have some kind of quirky anxiety that is just too embarrassing to talk about even with your closest friends.
 
None of these debilities means you can't be a highly effective human being leading a meaningful life. They just mean that you have to work harder at it, and you need to pay attention to warning signals guiding you to seek help you when you really need it.
 

2. Effective people embrace their struggles.

Russians are famous for their endurance. Americans tend to surprise people with their endurance. People who are convinced of the worth of their lives "keep on keeping on" despite pain and disability.
Would you be surprised to learn that a famous Canadian athletic coach reports that 48 percent of the athletes he trains take prescription medications, and not to enhance athletic performance? Would be surprised to learn that chain of gymnasiums in North America found that 23 percent of their male customers and 33 percent of their female customers take prescription drugs for anxiety or depression? Have you ever seen an 80-year-old person at the gym, or mowing the lawn, or scraping ice off the windshield to get to work? 
 
The key to being "good enough" is showing up for your life. You succeed after you make your attempt.
 
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Grinin VM, Shestemirova EI. [Demographic Ageing in Russia at the Present Stage]. Vestn Ross Akad Med Nauk. 2015. (3):348-54. Russian. PMID: 26495724.
  • Zilioli S, Slatcher RB, Ong AD, Gruenewald TL. Purpose in life predicts allostatic load ten years later. J Psychosom Res. 2015 Nov. 79(5):451-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.09.013. Epub 2015 Oct 9,
  • Photo courtesy of keoni101: www.flickr.com/photos/keoni101/5530478970/
  • Photo courtesy of twentysevenphotos: www.flickr.com/photos/twentysevenphotos/5413695877/

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