Here we are on the cusp of a new year, and we again have an opportunity to do something positive about our health.
If there is one thing you need to know when contemplating health changes, it’s that it is never too late. It does not matter if you are 90 years old or 19 years old, healthy or sick – you can make meaningful changes that will help you feel better and live longer.
Need some evidence? Let’s talk about smoking, the granddaddy of all bad health habits. Smoking damages virtually every organ in the body. If a patient stops smoking, their risk of dying of a heart attack immediately drops. Five years after quitting, the heart attack and stroke risk will virtually return to normal. The lung cancer risk also drops, and the patient’s breathing and cough are measurably improved. Even if someone has smoked themselves to the brink of lung cancer, if they quit, they double their chances of survival.
Another major health issue, of course, is diet and exercise. People are often reluctant to start a program to manage their weight if they are more than 100 pounds overweight. The mountain they must climb to do something about those extra 100 pounds seems overwhelming. But the body still burns 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day, and a 1,200- to 1,500-calorie diet is quite possible. That’s a pound or two of fat burned per week, equaling 50 to 100 pounds per year.
How many times have you started an exercise program? A dozen? A hundred? Now you are 40, 60 or even 80 years old, and have the aches and pains to prove it. Why exercise? Of immediate benefit, exercise is good for deteriorating joints. You will hurt less with exercise. Even if you have had a heart attack, exercise will dramatically lower the risk of the next one. People are in wheelchairs simply because they do not have the strength in their legs to walk. Leg exercises have allowed them to get out of their wheelchairs. It clearly is not too late to start.
“You are what you eat” is old news – and it is literally true. The more professionals study nutrition, the more they find that health and disease are closely tied to our diet. Even the germs in our gut are important.
Fiber in the diet is one of the most important aspects because it absorbs cholesterol and much of the fat consumed, keeping it out of the bloodstream. To get more fiber, a good starting point is to have Metamucil or Mini Wheats on a daily basis. Probiotics establish a healthier population of germs to your intestine. In mice, we can make an old mouse act young again just by changing the germs in their intestines.
Raw nuts have recently been in the news. Once again, the more we learn, the more impressive nuts are for our health. Not surprisingly, the regular consumption of raw nuts is associated with lower rates of heart disease, the number one killer of Americans. What surprised us was that “all case mortality” – all ways of dying, from cancer to motor vehicle accidents – is reduced with regular nut consumption.
While you are making resolutions, make one to be happier. Exercise and diet have been found to work almost as well as Prozac for mood maintenance. And they are almost free.
January 1 can be just another day, or the start of something big. Take a deep breath, and remember that it’s never too late to make a big difference in your health.
Why not today?
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona, clinic.