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March 2001 Issue
You know how to stay healthy, but … why stay healthy?
by Michael Fick
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If you’ve kept up with this column, it’s become painfully obvious, even repetitious, that three legs support the health stool we all stand on with a rope around our necks: exercise, nutrition, and sleep. If any one of them fails, the stool falls over and our lives become less robust and shorter.

Don’t say, “But my great-granddad does …”, because

  1. he would be healthier if he didn’t … and
  2. he’s the exception.
For every living great-granddad there are many not-so-living great-granddads and many more ailing great-granddads. Even Dads … heck, sons and daughters … would be healthier and more vigorous –- and stay that way for extra decades –- if they took better care of their stool legs.

Regular readers have had this health triad pounded into their heads. They know very well that their lives would be better and longer if they changed this or did that or stopped or started the other. But far more than half of us –- and that portion is growing in every sense of the word -– need greater motivation to put that knowledge into action.

Here are some motivators, some aimed at individual elements of the health and longevity triad and some at the overall health picture. Skim through them and find one that works for you; one effective motivator can turn the tide. If one of them does it for you, write it on a Post-It note and stick it on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror. Surely something in a list this long will help.

Exercise

  • Exercise does not necessarily imply working out. Play and physical work qualify.

  • Exercise includes pumping iron in a carpeted, air-conditioned gym with your favorite tunes in your ear; saving $5,000 by building that fence yourself or just mowing the lawn; and windsurfing, tennis or any of 92 other sports. Surely there’s something there worth doing. After all, millions feel their exercise is among the most important parts of their lives.

  • You’ll be amazed at the number of fat, old, and/or decrepit farts (maybe like yourself?) you’ll find at the gym. Realize the fat and decrepit ones are the newbies.

  • You enjoyed play as a kid, but now you’ve buried the impulse under too much adult baggage. There’s no reason you can’t be both kid and adult.

  • Or at least use your adult side to just suck it up and exercise.

  • Many old people play. Think about that; it’s not a coincidence.

  • Many large, rigorous studies have incontrovertibly proved that exercise doesn’t just correlate with dramatic decreases in death rates; it causes them.

  • Fit people are both happier and smarter. The same study that proved aerobic exercise is as effective as medication in treating major depression also showed improvements in the participants' memories as well as their abilities to plan, organize and juggle different intellectual tasks.

  • Any exercise is far better than none.

  • We don’t have to exercise all the time, or even really hard, to get much healthier.

  • The biggest drop in the curve of death rates versus exercise quantity occurs right off the couch. The change from being a total couch potato to taking a few brisk 30-minute walks each week lowers the death rate more than the increase from those walks to Olympic athlete fitness.

  • Exercise a little more than usual a few times next week. Unless you’re already training for a marathon, you will feel better in just that week.

  • Which energizes us quicker and longer when the afternoon snooze monster strikes … a candy bar, a nap, or a quick stroll? The stroll. Think what serious exercise does for our energy level.

  • Dieting alone sheds primarily muscle. Exercise not only builds muscle; it also burns fat, even while we sleep.

  • Exercise benefits old, infirm people as quickly as it does youngsters. That’s not just hype; it’s been shown in many medical studies, even of people over 100 years old.

  • The risk to longevity associated with a sedentary lifestyle is as great as smoking a pack a day, being 20% overweight, having high cholesterol, or having high blood pressure.

  • If you have ever been in shape, you know how it feels. You can go there again.

  • Once in the shape you want to be, you can cut way back on the exercise – or crank it up and keep improving.

  • Exercise improves our fitness long before it takes weight off. Fitness is related more to capacity for work than to size, shape, or weight. Some serious, successful, competitive marathon runners are very obese, including two doctors at the Cooper Aerobics Institute.

Nuitrition

(i.e., your diet, but the d-word has such connotations we avoid it to minimize confusion):

  • Few diets – eating regimens artificially contrived to shed weight – work in the short term. Virtually none of them work or is safe in the long haul.

  • Diets leave us hungry. A healthy non-diet lets us eat plenty of food.

  • Healthy food does not have to taste “healthy”. Who wouldn’t enjoy a meal like this: a heap of fresh succulent baby spinach, deviled eggs, and cherry tomatoes with a little low-fat bacon/honey/Dijon dressing; a sliver of grilled lean meat like fresh snapper or chicken breast in lemon herb sauce; sweet potatoes candied in marshmallows and walnuts; any green vegetable steamed or nuked until hot but still almost crunchy and slathered in a fake butter/cheese sauce; a fist-sized chunk of hot cranberry pecan whole wheat bread smothered in olive oil and Italian spices; a great wine; and a bowl of angel food cake hidden under fresh strawberries and fake whipped cream with fresh coffee? That’s a very healthy meal as long as your overall calorie intake that week doesn’t exceed your calorie expenditure. Really active people can eat that well every day … even every meal … and stay healthy, and a breakfast like that is a great start to an energized day.

  • Aren’t white bread, and the constipation it often triggers, boring?

  • You don’t need butter or margarine any more than you need the otherworst foods in the supermarket, such as Twinkies, bacon, or ice cream. In fact, after a few weeks without butter or margarine, they taste like so much lard.

  • When on a healthy eating regimen, an occasional cheesecake binge isn’t going to hurt. On a diet, that cheesecake can trigger a relapse.

  • The particular diseases healthy eating tends to avert are some of the nastiest, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

  • Diabetics often lose their limbs, sight, and lives if they don’t adhere to extreme diets. Diabetes is epidemic in kids because of their junk food eating habits and lack of exercise.

Sleep

  • Isn’t sleeping in on Sunday morning until you aren’t sleepy any more a great treat? If you did that every day, you should pop awake in about eight hours with no alarm clock, think more clearly than you have in years, and stay bright-eyed until bedtime. Not doing that almost every day is as unhealthy as steak or sloth.

  • Anybody can do it, it takes no physical effort, and it’s free.

  • If you woke up refreshed 19 hours ago, you’re now driving as though you were legally drunk. Think that doesn’t apply to you? So does every drunk driver.

  • Sleep a full eight hours some night. All other things being equal, you’ll feel better that very next day. Anyone feels better if well rested.

Overall

  • Which is better, dying of heart disease throughout your 60s or dropping dead beating your grandson at tennis at 85?

  • Extra weight wears out our hearts, pancreas (diabetes), backs, hips, knees, and ankles.

  • Put on a backpack. Fill it with rocks equivalent to your extra weight. Wear it for a week every moment you’re not in a chair or bed. Then just before you climb the stairs one more time, take it off. Now how much easier is climbing the stairs?

  • That’s just the weight talking. Imagine how easy those stairs would be with stronger legs, lungs, and heart even at the same weight.

  • Don't huffing and puffing and sweating from a flight or two of stairs embarrass you?

  • People in decent shape actually enjoy running up a few flights of stairs, just because it feels better than the tedium of plodding up them one step at a time.

  • We look better to others when fit. Shallow? Sure … but fact. And we sure as heck feel better physically and emotionally.

  • Fit-looking people get promoted sooner. Unfair, but true.

  • Who’s going to take care of our kids, parents, and dog – or us – after we run our health into the ground?

  • Staying healthy adds to, not subtracts from, our lifelong free time.

  • There are no chemical or dietary shortcuts to good health. Neither pills, grapefruit, extra protein, nor any three-minutes-a-day workout will replace any of the stool’s legs.

  • Are cigarettes, piles of meat, excess alcohol, your couch, and saturated fat more important to you than playing with your great-grandkids ... or their great-grandma?

  • Doesn't unnecessary pain, whether in your out-of-shape leg or your ailing heart, irritate or downright scare the hell out of you?

  • Climbing mountains or jumping out of good airplanes is slightly likely to end our lives early, but sloth, poor eating habits, or habitually sleeping less than eight hours are almost certain to shorten our lives.

  • No one knows better than life insurance companies that healthy people live longer. That’s why life insurance is much cheaper for healthier people.

  • Your best reasons to stay healthy probably share your last name.



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