Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are Health Conscious People in the Minority?

The Chinese symbol for health and longevity.

Why people must take responsibility for their own health.
I generally don’t rant on my blog but I read a paper published in June, 2009 in the American Journal of Medicine that really ticked me off. A study was done at the Medical University of South Carolina. They studied healthy lifestyle habits in the US during the 18 year period from 1988 to 2006. Since lifestyle is associated with cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in America, they wanted to see if people were adhering to healthy lifestyle habits and if there was improvement during this time frame. After all, there has been a lot publicized over this time period to encourage people to improve their habits so you’d certainly expect an improvement, right??

The lifestyle habits studied were the following:

• Eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day

• Regular exercise, defined as more than 12 times per month

• Maintaining a healthy weight with a body mass index of 18.5 to 29.9 (30 is obese)

• Moderate alcohol consumption (up to 1 drink per day for women, 2 for men)

• Not smoking

So, here are the results over the last 18 years for the percentage of adults who were 40 to 74 years old:

• People eating 5 or more fruits and vegetables has significantly decreased from 42% to 26%

• Minimum physical activity of 12 times a month decreased from 53% to 43%

• Those with a BMI greater than or equal to 30 increased from 28% to 36%

• Moderate alcohol use has increased from 40% to 51% (the only positive trend!)

• Smoking rates have not changed with approximately one quarter of the adult population still smoking

• People adhering to ALL 5 healthy habits was ONLY 8%, down from 15%

I’m amazed at the results of this study. Our healthcare system in the U.S. is in a shambles and Obama is seriously trying to fix it but that’s impossible if people won’t take responsibility for their own health. I admit some of these could be tough, but in a way, they are all related. If you improve one or two of these habits, the rest will follow.

Eating 5 or more fruits and vegetables a day will help fill you up and you will lose weight naturally. And no, catsup on your fries does not count as a fruit and a vegetable! I have posted many fruit and vegetable recipes on this blog so if you’re not getting enough, try some of these. One of the problems is that Americans want cheap food. The cheapest food is often the unhealthiest. Perhaps we should stop subsidizing the farmers to grow corn (which ends up in high fructose corn syrup, corn fed beef, and a million other fattening things—please watch the documentary, “King Corn”) and incentivize farmers to grow fruits and vegetables!

When you’re working, it’s especially hard to get to the gym but you need to pick something that you love to do. Walking, dancing (I adore my Zumba class), yoga, biking, swimming; whatever will inspire you to dedicate the time. Getting a partner will help immensely. When you are not in the mood to exercise, there’s nothing like having a partner to encourage you to go.

Alcoholic drinks are empty calories and although a glass of wine a night may have some health benefits, too many glasses just leads to weight gain. There are 120 calories in a 5 ounce glass of wine. If you drink one less glass of wine per night, you’ll lose one pound a month! And while you’re not having that extra drink, go out and walk 30 minutes a night. You’ll lose another pound a month!

Smoking is a tough one. I grew up in New York where kids start smoking in high school or sooner. My mother smoked and didn’t even try to discourage me when I started smoking at 14. Back then, we didn’t know how bad it was. They even had commercials showing doctors puffing away on cigarettes. It wasn’t until 1964 when the U.S. Surgeon General’s report revealed the health risks of cigarettes and people finally began to understand the serious consequences. This lead to the first Cigarette Act requiring a warning on cigarette packages. When I moved to California 21 years ago, I just stopped cold turkey. I think you just have to “get it” that this stuff kills you. It’s said that almost half of Americans who smoke will die from it. That’s over 440 thousand people a year in the U.S. that will die from tobacco related illnesses. Cigarettes cause at least one third of all cancer deaths including lung cancer and cancer of the larynx, mouth, throat, bladder and esophagus. It’s also linked to cancer of the pancreas, cervix, kidney, stomach and some forms of leukemia. Also, encourage your kids not to smoke. About 20% of the students in high school smoke as well as 6% of middle school students.

So why am I ticked off about the report showing the decline of people’s healthy lifestyles? How does that affect me and my family? Well, because of the increase of self induced illnesses due mostly to obesity and smoking, healthcare costs have sky rocketed for all of us. Many young, self-employed and retired people can no longer afford health insurance, even if they are healthy. Medicare is collapsing because of the burden of dealing with degenerative disorders like heart disease, diabetes and many cancers that are caused by years of poor choices. I’m mad because we will NEVER fix the healthcare problem in the U.S. unless all people participate in their own wellness.

So I’ll stop ranting for now but the bottom line is, if you want to be healthy, take control of your own destiny. If you want to live a long productive life, get a plan. If you don’t want to drop dead in the prime of your life or worse yet, spend your golden years in a nursing home eating mechanically softened food and wearing a diaper, follow a few healthy guidelines:

• Eat healthy

• Drink in moderation

• Exercise

• Don’t smoke

It’s truly worth the effort and it may save your life!


N said...

Thank you for this! I hope that it helps other people that want to live a healthy lifestyle, as it has helped me. Now I know where to start.

Joanne said...

Your welcome. You've made my day!