Alan Frischer, MD, MPH
Health Made Simple
How can we live a long and healthy life? We are stuck with the genes that we’re born with. Even our environment may be largely out of our control, due to work, family, and other factors.
However, there is clear and overwhelming evidence that our lifestyle choices have an enormous impact on our health and longevity. Making good choices can add years and quality to our lives. Here’s my disclaimer: None of what you are about to read will come as much of a surprise. Nevertheless, many people actually pay me to hear it…so why not take a few moments and read on?
Get enough sleep. The link between sleep and life expectancy is well established in studies. It is clear when we aren’t getting enough sleep; we feel tired, and our daily performance is affected, both physically and mentally.
Be physically active. A good rule of thumb is to make time for a minimum of thirty minutes, four days per week. It protects the heart, bones, blood pressure, sugar levels, brain, and so many other aspects of our health. Even in short increments, it gets the blood flowing, helps to manage stress, increases alertness, and burns calories. Any exercise will do as long as it gets the heart beating faster and results in some shortness of breath. Opportunities to walk are everywhere. Park further away, use the stairs, take walk breaks.
Maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity is a major risk factor for so many disease conditions, and is closely associated with a shorter lifespan and poorer quality of life. Body Mass Index (BMI) is weight divided by height. A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered “normal.” When compared to normal and controlled for age, those with a BMI of 30-35 experience a 27% increase in mortality. What’s even more shocking is that those with a BMI of 35-40 have a 93% increase in mortality! It’s very clear that genetic predisposition can make it extremely difficult to achieve a lower BMI, and I do advise that it is better to be healthy than to be slender. This is when eating a nutritious diet and getting proper exercise becomes even more critical.
Eat a healthful diet. Eating natural foods including fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, seeds, fish, chicken and turkey; and limiting red meat, processed foods, sugar and other simple carbohydrates; gives us energy and lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and most other diseases. Some good examples include the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and Weight Watchers.
Limit alcohol. It does appear that drinking red wine might confer some positive health benefits, and clearly a bit of relaxation can be a very good thing. A guideline I recommend is that men drink no more than two drinks, four days per week; and that women drink no more than one drink, four days per week. Women who have three drinks per week show a 15% higher risk of breast cancer, and that number goes up by 10% with each additional daily drink. And of course, for those who have a problematic history with alcohol, the right amount to drink is none at all.
Do not smoke. Where have you heard that before? Smoking accounts for about 480,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. This will likely be the hardest habit to break. Nonetheless, if you want to live well, and to be spared the whims of your addiction, I urge you to consider quitting ASAP.
You have heard this all before, and it makes sense. These recommendations have been extremely well studied and documented. But they bear reminding, in order to help us focus on some attainable goals. Devoting ourselves to small improvements in our daily health habits will lead to feeling better, living longer, and enjoying life more. We are all imperfect humans, so let’s just work on being just a little more human and a little less imperfect.