The following article appeared in the Summer 2015 edition of Health Science Magazine.
Lifespans and Healthful Living, Improving Posture, and Supplements
Question: If I do everything my doctor recommends eat healthy, breathe clean air, get enough sleep and exercise, get adequate sunshine, laugh more, love more, and stress less—will I live longer?
Answer: People who follow a health-promoting diet and engage in consistent health-promoting behaviors are not guaranteed immortality or a significantly delayed age of death. That may largely be determined by genetics. However, the quality of life is what improves most. Most Americans spend the last 10 years of their life in and out of hospitals recovering from surgeries, infections, and hopelessly delaying the effects of their unhealthy lifestyle. The physical and emotional toll on you and your loved ones is immeasurable. A healthy lifestyle can help you actually live out a quality life, instead of dying slower.
Question: I hear doctors on TV, or my skinny friends, say, “Just do it! Just get healthy: make a decision and fully commit to it.” I’ve tried and tried, and I just can’t seem to “do it.“ How can I get healthier?
Answer: While a phrase like "Just do it!“ may seem simple and bold, the task of "getting healthy“ can seem monumental, especially when trying and failing for many years. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at such a great task. However, instead of focusing on the goal of "getting healthy“ try something different. Focus on setting up your environment to make it easier to eat healthy, exercise, and go to bed on time. For example, spending some time to set up your kitchen for efficiency, putting your exercise clothes in your gym bag with a full water bottle, and making your bedroom dark and comfortable are some beginning steps you can take on the journey towards "Just do it". Understand that it can often take several months or even years for new patterns and habits to develop and really take hold. However, an efficient environment makes this process much, much easier while conserving your much-needed willpower. Sometimes people do make changes drastically, but those cases are exceptions not expectations to mimic.
Question: How do I improve my posture?
Answer: When trying to improve their posture, most people try and simply sit up straighter by arching their shoulders back, straightening their lower spine, and tilting their head backwards. However, because all of those motions engage muscles that eventually will tire, the effect is brief. Instead, imagine yourself with a tail. Then sit or stand in a way that your tail falls behind you instead of between your legs. A good way to do this while sitting is to lean all the way forward and move your hips and rear completely back, then lean back, comfortably. In this way, your lower back naturally arches and supports your upper back. Other ideas are to 1) exercise more. As your larger and smaller muscles become stronger, good posture is maintained automatically; 2) take breaks when sitting for long periods of time; and 3) when texting, instead of bending your neck down, bring your phone up to eye level.
Question: What’s the best diet for diabetes and heart disease?
Answer: With lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and overweight, the disease is really a larger symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle. So, instead of removing the symptoms as a primary goal, it’s helpful to address the cause of the problem: the unhealthy lifestyle. The largest controllable factor is moving toward a health-promoting diet where the majority of the calories are coming from whole, unprocessed foods, such as vegetables, starches (such as whole grains, tubers, and legumes), and some fruits, nuts, and seeds. Clean air, adequate sleep and exercise, pure water, appropriate responses to stress, and a loving social circle are also helpful to keep you on track. Doing all of these may seem daunting at first, so pick one or two to try out first. Since the effects of such a lifestyle can be fast, talk to your doctor before beginning a new health program.
Question: Are supplements safe to take every day?
Answer: The safest way to consume supplements is through the recommendation of a healthcare professional; only they will be able to order and interpret appropriate objective tests that may indicate that a supplement is necessary. However, most nutrient deficits and excesses can be corrected by modifying lifestyle and diet. For example, scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency, can easily be reversed by eating fresh fruits and vegetables (all high in Vitamin C) rather than taking a supplement. It is understandable that following a healthy lifestyle can be difficult and not always perfectly achievable. But substituting a supplement instead of focusing on healthful living can become a crutch, promoting procrastination of healthier habits and may even offer a false sense of protection. There is also some literature suggesting that synthetic vitamins may actually be harmful. So, seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional who is experienced in health promotion to meet your individual needs. Question: Does a healthier diet really cost more? Answer: Actually, no. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, foods such as whole grains, starches, beans, legumes, and unprocessed fruits and vegetables are actually the cheapest food per pound, almost all less than $2 per pound. Buying in bulk may help to keep costs down as well as eating out less often. Keep in mind, that while organic foods may contain fewer pesticides they are more expensive. Conventional spinach, however, will always be healthier than an organic, processed dessert. The fact that the majority of Americans are overweight or obese means that we are over-consuming calories. With all things considered, it is a heavy expense to be unhealthy. We are burning 1 billion more gallons of gas in our cars due to our extra weight (compared to average weights in 1960). In the article “The Costs of Obesity in the Workplace” (J Occup Environ Med. 2010 Oct; 52(10):971-6), when we add in extra healthcare and medication costs (about $1,150 extra for obese men and $3,600 for obese women), and increased insurance premiums, time and productivity lost at work (about $320 for overweight men and $6,000 for morbidly obese men, and about $800 for overweight women and $6,600 for morbidly obese women), and the poor quality of life, it’s not even close..