Monday, September 7, 2009

The Four Pillars of a Healthy Lifestyle

I recently moved my work to the Palm Springs area of California. I am the Vice President for Primary Care at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California. My duties include starting a new primary care practice where I also work as a family physician. This week I developed a preventive medicine presentation I will be giving to groups of people, mostly seniors, in our area. I would like to share my key messages here.

Balance is the key to health in many ways. Our lifestyle choices play the major role in whether we are healthy or sick, outweighing our genetics and the bad luck of getting a disease for no apparent reason. There are four areas where lifestyle play a major role in our health. Do these four things and you are likely to be healthy:

Eat Right: We are what we eat, so what goes in our body is vital to our health. The mainstay of our nutrition should be vegetables and grains. We should avoid the saturated fats found in many animal meats and dairy, and the trans fats found in many fried foods and pastries. Eat healthy fats like those found in nuts and quality vegetable oils, such as canola and olive oil. We should avoid simple sugars that make us hungry and have protein at every meal (Nuts, low fat dairy, lean meats and fish). We should avoid excess salt. Do not eat many more than your body needs to maintain a healthy weight. See my other blogs since I write here about nutrition every month.

Be Active: Use it or lose it is a good rule for keeping our bodies healthy. Look for opportunities in your daily life to walk more, climb stairs and be active. Then, devote 5 of the of the 168 hours in a week to one or more physical activities of your choice. Being physically active is the best long term predictor of living a long and healthy life.

Sleep Well: We trained our children in how to sleep, but many of us forgot the lessons. Prepare for a good night's sleep by winding down our daily activities, turn down the lights, and leave the problems of our day behind. Imagination is ok for adults to use to enter the world of sleep. As adults, 6 to 8 hours of refreshing sleep is usually enough to replenish our bodies.

Manage Stress: Stress can wear down even the healthiest body. Be aware of our stress levels at home and at work, and seek ways to reduce the stressors. Some of us thrive on a certain amount of stress, that is fine. We know when we are distressed because we are not at ease and not smiling as much. I like these three rules for handling stress: 1. Don't sweat the small stuff, 2. Everything (just about) is small stuff, and 3. If you cannot fight, and you cannot flee, then flow.

Take a moment to reflect on these four "pillars" in your life and see what adjustments you can make to preserve your health.


Anne said...

Where is the science that says saturated fats are bad for you? Stephen Guyenet has looked at the various studies and asks the same question.

You mention canola and olive oil, but leave out fish oil. You do mention fish, but not all fish is equal. Wild caught has been shown to have more omega 3's. There is some concern that we eat too many omega 6's and they may promote inflammation.

Perhaps in the "Eat Right" section you should mention that it is sugars and carbohydrates that drive up our triglycerides. The American Heart Association came out with a statement about the bad effects of added sugars.

What about vitamin D? Recent studies reveal that many are deficient and most are suboptimal in this vitamin(really a hormone). I found I have to take about 5000 iu a day to keep my level around 50ng/ml.

In fact, what about nutrient levels in general. How often do physicians ask a patient to keep a food diary for a week and then look at it. Your well nourished looking patient may really have nutrient deficiencies.

You are correct, we can do a lot to improve our health with the 4 pillars you outline.

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