Four Only-Slightly-Boring Rules for Great Health
(May 10, 2016)
I have mentioned what might be stuffily referred to as the "Rules of Good Health" many times in the last couple of years. Since I've never specifically set down what those Rules are, you may have assumed that there really are none. And that I have simply been making airy hand-waves in the vague direction of "eat right and exercise". But I would not do such a worthless thing.
It happens that there are four specific rules to follow that we KNOW will reduce your chances of prematurely dying from one of those horrific diseases we are so well acquainted with these days by eighty percent (80%). ATE EE PER CENT! Not only that, but if you are not getting ill, you are going to the doctor's office far less and are much more likely to escape being killed by medical error, our third leading cause of death. Win-win all around!
We are far from knowing everything there is to know about health and disease and how to promote the former over the latter, of course. But we do know SOME stuff, and that Stuff is good enough to prevent most problems. Thusly.
Rule 1. Don't smoke. Smoking is really bad for you, m'kay? The CDC estimates that the average male smoker has his life shortened by 13.2 years. Worse, it's 14.5 years for women. Most of the difference in life expectancy between men and women is due to the fact that more men smoke more than women. (I'm willing to bet that the rest of that difference is due to heart attacks while watching professional sporting events. If you have a million dollars to give me to study this, you can reach me via the contact information below.)
The word on the street used to be that fewer than five cigarettes a day put you in nonsmoker territory. I can't find any current information on that, so I would assume it NOT to be true and therefore have no wiggle room at all to offer any smokers out there. Except this -- if you smoke and have so far been unable to quit, please just keep trying. The more times you have tried to quit, the more likely you are to do so. The average successful quitter has tried at least eight and as many as twenty-one times, and taken at least five years to do so. So take heart and try again.
Rule 2. Keep your body weight in the normal range. Please note that by "normal range" I do NOT mean that you should look like Calista Flockhart after she's been lost at sea for several months. We are talking about health here, not the current "beauty" trends. So that Normal, HEALTHY range would be roughly 114 to 149 lbs. for a five-foot five-inch woman (which is supposedly the average height these days) and 149 to 183 lbs. for a five-foot ten-inch man.
Most of us are agonizing because we aren't at our ideal weights. But as Voltaire once said, you should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. (It was Voltaire, right? I know it wasn't Mark Twain. And it seems like one or the other of them has said everything worth repeating.) So if you are still trying to get into your high school jeans, don't worry about that. The ones you wore on that camping trip ten years ago will probably be quite good enough.
Rule 3. Eat well. This is not the place to get into coconut oil versus olive oil, or whether chia seeds will extend your life. That stuff is quibbling over details and is not important. It is not important because WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO EAT WELL.
Please trust me on this. Michael Pollan's oft-repeated rule of "Eat real food. Not too much of it. Mostly plants", is what you need to do here. "Real food" means, of course, edible items that have had little or no processing. Here is what he has to say about that:
"The Masai subsist on cattle blood and meat and milk and little else. Native Americans subsist on beans and maize. And the Inuit in Greenland subsist on whale blubber and a little bit of lichen," he (Pollan) said. "The irony is, the one diet we have invented for ourselves -- the Western diet -- is the one that makes us sick."
WebMD goes into more detail on this and I'm going to give that link again. It is well worth perusing because it succinctly sums up this particular rule, which due to propaganda and poor journalism has become so confusing for so many people.
Rule 4. Get sufficient and appropriate exercise. Here is something that is not well known. The current federal guidelines for exercise for adults are enough in themselves to put you into that 80%-less-disease category that I keep talking about. We don't have to wait for "further study" to know basically what is good to be doing.
As in the case of body weight, you do not have to go overboard here to be healthy. In fact, you're better off not doing so. It's amazing how many people I see who have chronic pain from damage that originated with their cherished sport or exercise. Any marginal improvements in their health from those activities are way offset by the pain and disability they suffer from having overdone it at some point -- especially down the road a piece, where the premature arthritis sets in.
So for health reasons, the guidelines are QUITE enough. And they simply consist of
Some exercise is better than none. An hour weekly of moderate-intensity exercise (that breaks down to less than ten minutes a day for the math-challenged) is enough to improve your health. Again, don't let the perfect etc. etc.
Doesn't that all sound so simple? And even easy? Yet fewer than 5% of us stick to all of those rules all the time. If you can manage it yourself, you'll reduce your chances of dying prematurely by 80%. Sounds like a worthy goal to me.
--dr. diane holmes
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