The simple basics may lead to a better you.
Staying as healthy as you can is not rocket science. No, you cannot avoid medical issues, illnesses, and accidents indefinitely, but you can certainly tip the balance in your favor by taking some simple steps. I call them the ABCs of health.
A is for attention or awareness—You can lose your health quite easily, and quickly, simply by not paying attention. Very small changes occurring over a period of years may produce dramatic deterioration in your health. Gain a pound or two per year and in a couple of decades you will be obese. If you don’t check your blood pressure regularly, small, incremental increases can lead to hypertension. Untreated high blood pressure puts you at increased risk of a stroke or heart attack. A periodic checkup by your doctor simply isn’t enough. Pay attention to your body.
B is for background—We know that genetics play an important role in health. Know your family history. Is there breast cancer? You might consider getting checked for the breast cancer gene mutation, which runs in families. Colon cancer? You might wish to begin screening earlier in life. My family’s history includes heart disease and strokes, so I pay attention to my own risk factors by getting my cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked and making sure my blood pressure is consistently normal.
C is for commitment—I know from personal experience, and professionally as a doctor, that unless there is a commitment on the part of the person to live a healthy lifestyle, nothing I can say or do will have any meaningful impact. I also know that once people make that commitment, there is little they cannot accomplish. Stories abound of people who took seemingly impossible situations and turned them around by making a commitment to do this.
D is for diet—The typical American diet is one of the single biggest factors that turned us into what is almost certainly the unhealthiest population in history, with epidemic obesity, chronic illnesses, cancer, heart disease, and more. You are what you eat is more than a truism; it is my reality and yours. While details may change, the basics of a healthy diet are well known. One of the best books on diet I have ever read is Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.” His advice is simple and practical. You can read it in one sitting.
E is for exercise—Those who read my writings regularly are probably tired of hearing me promote exercise. If there is a “magic bullet” for staying healthy, exercise is it. A few hours a week of vigorous exercise will pay dividends above and beyond just about anything else. It reduces your risk of most everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer to heart disease. While it can be a challenge to begin a regular exercise program, those who do almost unanimously find that once it becomes part of their lifestyle, it is difficult to quit. Exercise or suffer the consequences. It is as simple as that.
F is for friends and family—We are social beings. You are more likely to live a healthy lifestyle if you engage your family and friends in doing the same. Parents need to lead kids by example. Find friends with similar interests, whether it is going to the gym, running, cycling, and so on. Your success will feed theirs and vice versa. If we did more of this, we would go further in solving the health care problems in our country than any legislation ever would.
G is for goals—I find I am at my best in living a healthy lifestyle when I have a goal. For me, it may be training for a marathon or triathlon. For others, it may be a weight goal, getting off medications, completing a 5K run, making it to the gym regularly for a specified period, or something else entirely. The goal doesn’t matter as long as it is yours. It should be specific and attainable, but challenging at the same time. Goals give us something to shoot for and hold us accountable. What is yours?
H is for holistic—This word is overused and misunderstood. It means that everything we do is interconnected. Our lifestyle encompasses all the decisions we make every day—decisions that either promote or detract from our good health. We make lifestyle choices every day. Choose wisely.