Four of the best things to do for your health.

Correlation between smoking and lung cancer in...

Correlation between smoking and lung cancer in US males, showing a 20-year time lag between increased smoking rates and increased incidence of lung cancer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Four of the best things to do for your health.

1) Don’t start smoking. Stop smoking if you’ve already started.

 If someone asked you to pick up a habit that increased the risk of all of the following (and would cost you roughly $33-77 dollars a week depending on where you live, brand, etc), would you do so? Here are some of the things that smoking increases the risk of: lung cancer, colon cancer, bladder cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, cervical cancer, vascular disease including aortic aneurysms and strokes. It increases the risk of fractures in post menopausal women. It increases the risk of low birth weights in infants. There is an increased chance of developing cataracts. For men in their 30s and 40s, it increases the risk of erectile dysfunction by 50%.

According to the CDC, smoking contributes to 443,000 deaths annually in the U.S.

2) maintain a healthy weight.

obesity raises the risk of multiple diseases: Diabetes Mellitus – type 2, high blood pressure, colon cancer (though the mechanism isn’t known how). It increases the risk of breast cancer (adipose tissue has an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen), osteoarthritis and more. There are no easy ways of doing this. At its simplest it means taking in the same amount of calories you expend. Granted if you’re overweight, you need to expend more calories than you take in.

3) Exercise

On top of helping maintain a healthy weight, excercise has many beneficial effects. Exercising reduces the risk of alzheimer’s disease, some cancers, it can improve mood, helps reduce blood pressure and can help prevent and treat diseases such as type 2 diabetes.  The suggested minimum is 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, which comes out to approximately 20 minutes a day. It can be something as simple as walking. The what of exercise (what kind) is less important than the regularity of actually getting exercise.

4) Have a healthy diet.

Potential health benefits of apple consumption...

Potential health benefits of apple consumption. (See Wikipedia:Apple#Health_benefits). Model: Mikael Häggström. To discuss image, please see Template talk:Häggström diagrams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Diet is the mainstay treatment in a lot of diseases. Whether it’s DM-2, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease (even if you’re on medication for any of these, maintaining an appropriate, healthy diet becomes no less important). In one study coming out of Lydon, France (known as the Lydon Study), people who were put onstandard treatment and who were switched to mediterranean diet with N-3 fatty acid supplementation (as opposed to just the  standard treatment) decrease their mortality after a heart attach by 66% (their mortality went from 17% down to 10%). This was independent of weight loss, decrease in cholesterol, etc. A dietary/lifestyle program promoted by Dr. Ornish which uses lifestyle changes, exercise and a vegetarian low fat diet (10-20% of calories from fat rather than the 20-30 used in the AHA step II diet) has been shown to reverse Coronary Heart Disease and is covered by medicare. A mediterranean style diet is also associated with decreased death from heart disease, a decreased risk of certain cancers as well as a decreased risk of dementia. At this point I won’t go into a huge discussion about diet (I’m likely to blog more about this in the future on multiple occasions).

resiliency

Resilient:

(of a person or animal) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

DERIVATIVES:resilience noun, resiliency noun, resiliently adverb

It’s taken me a bit longer to do this post than I originally had hoped it would. Given the events in Boston this past  few weeks, this word resilience has been going through my mind a lot. Though it did also go through my mind due to other recent events as well (Newtown CT, Aurora CO among others). I do not want to sound as if I am medicalizing whatever caused the people who killed and maimed over 170 people. However, being the optimist that I am, I think people’s basic makeup is to be nice to other people and have a “live and let live” attitude to others that they disagree with or have no particular connection to.  I sometimes wonder what happened to people that would drive them to commit such acts of horror, that overcomes whatever resiliency that would otherwise keep them functional, reasonably happy people.

As a practicing physician I often get to see a side of people that they don’t often show others. There are the people who have gone through whatever traumas life has presented them and are married, have children and work. Others don’t seem as lucky, as if somehow given the same number and intensity of  shocks to their system used up whatever resiliency they have. They seem to go from moment to moment as if their lives are going to collapse. Anxiety seems to seep from their pores when they come into my office.

I have no answers as to why some people are more resilient than others. Often people who grew up in tough situations (few resources at home, single parents, drugs/violence in the neighborhood) make the news for getting into Harvard, Yale or some other school and “made it”. Was it that their parents and teachers helped them stay resilient. What about the people who are mirror images … they have caring parents who model being nice, giving to others, tolerance, don’t have  to worry about where if they are getting their next meal and where it’s coming from but somehow end up being unable to say no to whatever demon (now I’m speaking figuratively here, not literally) overwhelms whatever their resiliency can handle and they end up having issues (for lack of a better word) with drugs, violence or whatever.

Perhaps this will be my only foray into making any sort of commentary on society or sounding like I’m living in left field (or perhaps the peanut gallery) but: perhaps in addition to the three ‘Rs that are taught in school, Resilience should be added as a fourth R. Does it need to be  separate class? Probably not, life doesn’t happen in discrete blocks (I don’t spend one hour doing math, another hour ‘doing’ history, another ‘doing English’  i.e. reading writing, explaining things to people either verbally or in writing, and so forth)  and some things in school shouldn’t  either. Just learning that a bad grade in one test or class doesn’t mean the end of the world. Nor does having difficulty with one class or multiple subjects if given the skills/help in figuring out what helps someone learn. Ideally it’s something people should learn at home.

For something that affect health and quality of life, resilience is probably underrated. It is not the cure for all ills (if one is resilient, it doesn’t make one immune to getting cancer, diabetes, hypertension, etc). I suspect those who are more resilient are more able to deal with any chronic illness they might have and are more likely to take medication (if needed), follow up with any lifestyle changes that would affect their health (diet and exercise don’t become less important in diabetics once they start medication).  Would someone who’s resilient be less likely to do something that the  bombers did, that I don’t know. The answer to that, I leave to the psychiatrists, public health officials, philosophers, and those who actually do research in the area.

Related articles

Aging Well

I think that when most people think of aging well, they think of what adults do to become healthy older people. Another line of thinking, which I happen to like, is that successful aging starts  in childhood (may be even in utero) as many things that occur in childhood can affect health as adults. Think of people whose mothers had rubella while pregnant with them. For those of us old enough to have gotten chicken pox rather than the vaccine, we’re at risk for shingles as adults. Severe iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism and developmental delay (a more politically correct term for mental retardation). Growing up bilingual seems to protect against developing dementia, as well as having other beneficial effects on growing brains. The list goes on.

Though many people associate older age with disability and frailty, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. One thing I was taught throughout my training is that the older old (people in their 80’s and 90’s) are healthier than those in their 60s. At first this might sound counter intuitive. However, if one considers that those who are sickest die sooner, then it makes sense. The person whose only health issue is well controlled diabetes or well controlled hypertension is much more likely to reach his or her 80s than one who is overweight, diabetic with a glyco-hemoglobin of, for example, 9.5%, high cholesterol and has poorly controlled hypertension.

However, as I am assuming most if not all people reading this are adults, and as a time machine that would let people go back and vaccinate themselves against chicken pox, or somehow convince their parents to make them grow up bilingually (unless they did already)does not exist, I will limit myself to what an adult can do to age successfully. Nothing is guaranteed to prevent illness or frailty but what I suggest below does seem to help protect from or delay such things.

1. Stay Active. Our ancestors did not sit in cubicles all day earning enough money to buy food. They had to do any one of the following to get food: hunt animals, gather food, tend/harvest crops in the field or herd cattle/sheep etc. Only in the past few millennia was it possible for farmers to support a population where everyone didn’t need to be involved with procuring food/housing/etc. Not that getting food was a 24/7 job, but took more physical effort than driving to a supermarket. Even then people walked or rode horses to get places on land. Now it seems like to go more than 50 feet people drive their cars. Our bodies were made to be used. We should all be taking at least 10,000 steps a day (this comes out to walking approximately 5 miles/day).

2) Avoid bad behaviors. By this I mean, don’t do things that can shorten your life. Avoid smoking (not only is it bad for your lungs and increased your risk of lung cancer and of COPD, it raises your risk of bladder cancer, kidney cancer, esophageal cancer, raises your blood pressure and risk of heart disease). Drink in moderation (no more than 1 drink/day). Avoid any street drugs and sharing needles.  If you are sexually active and not in a monogamous relationship, use condoms. Having a discussion about your partners(‘) HIV status isn’t a bad idea either.

Don’t forget to embrace good behaviors. By this I mean not just those things I mention above and below, but also keeping any chronic diseases you have under control as best you can.

3) Be part of a community. Whether it’s a church (or synagogue or mosque), club for a hobby you enjoy, volunteering or any other activity that regularly gets you out with people, do something where you interact with people. The more positively the activity affects your community, the better. Humans are a social species. It helps keep your mind active if you remain part of a community.

4) Watch your diet. Eat healthy. What constitutes a healthy diet could (and likely will) take up a whole other blog post or two. Eat more vegetables. Cut back on meat – processed and otherwise. Eat more fish. Don’t drink to excess.

5) Be curious and educate yourself throughout your lifetime. Whether it’s people with more neural connections that end up in college and graduate school (and that is what makes people with college degrees less likely to develop dementia) or whether the education helps the neural connections stay healthy isn’t known. It could also be that the more educated someone is the more likely it is they will maintain doing healthy behaviors. In any case,  your brain is like a muscle, use it or loose it. If you have the time and inclination, learn another language. Take up a new hobby. Take a course in something you don’t know anything about. Take a refresher course in Italian (or spanish, or multivariable calculus, whatever floats your boat). If it’s another language, try and get good enough you can go to a foreign country where that is the official language and use that without having to speak English.

6) I realize not everyone has as much money as Warren Buffet or Donald Trump, but watch your financial health as best you can. If you retire, you don’t want to have to choose between a co-pay for medication or rent +/- food. If you can afford it, consider getting long term care insurance. If you need long term care, it can mean the difference between being at home with help or needed to go into a nursing home (policies are different, some might pay for nursing home stays as well).

oes