Can’t We Be Healthier?

I found a new study published by the Mayo Clinic to be quite frightening.  As a health professional, I see many people on a daily basis who suffer from a variety of health issues.  But this study revealed just how widespread the problems are and how much work needs to be done in all areas of health management in order for us as a population to achieve health and wellness.

Before we get to this study, let’s remember that in order to achieve the best chance of sustaining good health as we age and maintaining a good quality of life, we should be putting in about 150 minutes a week of moderate to intense physical activity, we should eat a healthy diet, not smoke and we should try to maintain a body fat of not more than 20% for men and less than 30% for ladies.  We know through multiple studies that the best indicator of longer life, and better quality of life, is our level of cardio-respiratory fitness.  And we all know by now that smoking cigarettes will cut your life expectancy by 10 years and once you get sick with one of the diseases that cigarettes will cause (cancers, heart disease, emphysema and much more), you quality of life will be non-existent and not only will you suffer, but those around you will suffer as well.  People with diabetes will increase their risk for blindness, kidney disease, neuropathy (diabetic pain), and are at greater risk of stroke and heart attack.  So, given all of these unkind outcomes to a lifestyle that includes unhealthy behaviors, one might thing that people would invest in their health—now, the study!

Doctor Charles Lorpinzi and his colleagues surveyed 4,745 adults to see which of 4 parameters, which have been set for good health, people actually accomplish and make part of their lives.  Overall, the survey revealed the following:

  • 5% did not smoke
  • 9% consumed a healthy diet
  • 6% had a normal body-fat percentage
  • 5% were sufficiently active
  • 7% had all four characteristics
  • 1% had none of the characteristics

Women were more likely to not smoke and to eat a healthy diet but were less likely to be active compared with men.  Older people were more likely to be non-smokers and healthy eaters, and were less likely to have a normal body-fat percentage and be active enough, compared with younger people.

major changesJust this past week, someone came into my office to talk about his health.  He works long hours out of the city and just now, at age 47 quit smoking (we hope), is totally inactive, is overweight, and has pre-diabetes and high cholesterol.   He often eats on the run and there isn’t any awareness of how much he eats of the quality of his food.  But his main complaint is fatigue and tiredness which is typical of someone inactive and with other poor lifestyle habits.   The good news is he is considering making some major changes to his lifestyle.  If we turn the clock back a few months, we would be dealing with someone who had none of the characteristics needed for a healthy life.  He smoked, ate haphazardly, was overweight, and wasn’t active at all.

For those of you reading this who are also not compliant in all four areas, don’t get any grand ideas.  These changes are not easily made and it is crucial to make changes one at a time if you expect them to last.  Any progress in any area will be helpful to your health and only by moving gradually will these changes become permanent and made a part of your life.  Changing habits is tough stuff.  It’s so difficult that Rabbi Yisrael Salanter is known to have said that learning the entire Talmud is easier than changing one character trait.

But this is what it comes down to– there is no shortage of information on choosing good habitshow to maintain a healthy lifestyle!  We can see a trainer to learn how to exercise and a registered dietician can teach us how to eat.  But then we have to actually do it, and make it part of our lives so that it isn’t just a passing fad.  If we can slowly, one habit at a time, better our eating and exercise, we won’t go back to the old habits because this is now part of our life, and it’s our choice.

One of the things I repeatedly tell my clients who are trying to lose weight, and have a lot of weight to lose is not to think about losing 20, 30, or 40 kilograms. That thought can be overwhelming and can cause one to not even make an attempt.   Instead, remember that each kilo of weight you lose is a kilo of health you gain.  And so it is with our lifestyle habits.  Are you very sedentary?  Then doing 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week is probably unattainable right away.  But if you are currently doing close to nothing and you start walking briskly for 15 minutes every day, by the end of the week you are already over a hundred minutes.  You will, over time be able to walk 30-40 minutes at a good clip most days of the week, but in the meanwhile, you have done something to improve your health and well-being greatly just by starting.  A client of mine was smoking a pack (20) cigarettes or more per day.  She hasn’t stopped yet but she is now down to 7 per day.  She already told me that her ability to exercise and function has increased greatly since she cut down.  She hasn’t succeeded in quitting totally yet, but look at the improvement. We need to do things one step at a time.

This study did indeed come as a shock to me; to know that so many people don’t meet the basic criteria for leading a healthy life. But with some work and effort, it can all be changed and it can be done at any age!  No matter what your state of health is, by taking that first step and gradually and methodically working towards and health lifestyle, you will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”


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