How to Safeguard Your Health
THE challenge today is to decide what will have the greatest impact on our health. The media have flooded the marketplace with information on dieting, exercise, nutritional supplements, and a host of other health-related matters. Unfortunately, much of it is contradictory. Says science writer Denise Grady: “Advice to the public about what to eat, what medicines to take and, basically, how to live, seems to do an about-face every time a new study is published in a medical journal.”
Some doctors advise that sticking with the basics is a more sensible approach than experimenting with every new health fad that comes along. For example, The American Medical Association Family Medical Guide says: “You can stay healthier throughout your life by making positive lifestyle changes and by having regular checkups, so that any disease that develops can be detected and treated early.” But what sort of “positive lifestyle changes” are the most beneficial? Let us consider three of them.
Choose Healthful Foods
Medical authorities recommend that we eat a wide variety of foods, with the largest portion of our calories coming from complex carbohydrates, especially those found in whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits.* However, our health is affected not only by what we eat but also by how much we eat. It is important to eat in moderation. Regularly taking in more calories than our body can burn leads to obesity. This, in turn, can cause strain on the heart, weaken the body, and make one “more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other disorders,” says one medical guidebook.
In recent years much attention has been given to the matter of dietary fat. Many health professionals state that a diet high in saturated fats raises the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. This does not mean, however, that we need to eliminate all fat from our diet. “There’s room in a healthy diet for what you love, in some amount, virtually every day,” says Mary Abbott Hess, past president of the American Dietetic Association. The key is to keep portions small and restrict other sources of fat.
Granted, changing your eating habits is not easy. In fact, some may reason that life is hardly worth living if they have to deprive themselves continually of foods they enjoy. But rather than adopt an all-or-nothing approach, seek to find a moderate balance. It’s more a matter of cutting back than doing without entirely. The previously quoted Family Medical Guide says: “Adopting a healthy lifestyle does not mean that you have to stop enjoying life.”
Dietitians suggest that you can soften the impact of making adjustments to your diet by phasing out unhealthy foods gradually. For example, balance your diet over the course of a week, not just one day. If you presently eat red meat every day, try cutting back to three times a week. The same goes for foods high in saturated fats, such as butter, cheese, ice cream, and high-fat snack foods. The goal should be to reduce your intake of fat so that it represents no more than 30 percent of your total calories.
Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University cautions against cutting back on dietary fat and then replacing it with foods high in starches and sugar. This often results in weight gain. A better approach is to reduce both fats and carbohydrates in your diet.
A healthy life-style includes a program of regular exercise. Dr. Steven Blair, an editor of the U.S. surgeon general’s report on physical fitness, says: “People who go from a sedentary life style to moderate activity cut their heart disease mortality rate in half.” Sadly, many people today do not engage in even moderate physical activity. For example, in the United States, 1 in 4 people is said to be completely inactive. In Canada a study entitled 1997 Physical Activity Benchmarks found that “63 per cent of Canadians were physically active for less than an hour a day,” reports The Toronto Star. And researchers in Britain say that one group of children they evaluated were “so inactive that their heart rates are little different awake from when they are asleep.”—The Sunday Times.
Previously it was thought that only vigorous aerobic exercise brought health benefits. But strenuous workouts are not necessary to improve fitness. In fact, “burning as few as 150 calories a day [by mild exercise] can reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes,” according to the surgeon general’s report.
When you select an exercise activity, it is important to choose something that you enjoy doing. Otherwise, you will not make it a part of your life-style. The key is not so much what you do for exercise but how often you do it. The U.S. National Institutes of Health suggests that as a general guideline, “children and adults alike should set a goal of accumulating at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week.”
What kind of activity is considered to be of moderate intensity? Swimming, brisk walking, riding a bicycle, washing and waxing the car, climbing stairs, and cleaning up the yard. You don’t need to join a gym or a health club to safeguard your health. However, there is one note of caution: Medical authorities recommend that if you have a history of cardiovascular disease or if you are a male over 40 years of age or a female over 50, you should be sure to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
What About Smoking, Drugs, and Alcohol?
Smoking: Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 health-threatening compounds, of which 200 are known poisons. Regardless of the number of toxins, however, there is little doubt about the devastating effect smoking has on one’s health. Few other consumer products come close to tobacco in the number of deaths they cause. In the United States, for example, ten times more people die from tobacco-related illnesses than from automobile accidents. The World Health Organization estimates that on a global scale, smoking claims three million lives annually!
In addition to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease, smokers suffer more frequently from colds, gastric ulcers, chronic bronchitis, and higher blood pressure than nonsmokers. Smoking also diminishes one’s sense of smell and taste. Clearly, giving up smoking is one of the most important preventive health measures an individual can take. But what about drugs and alcohol?
Drugs: Drug abuse has taken an enormous toll on human life worldwide. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says: “Each year, drug abuse kills 14,000 Americans.” But illicit drug users are not the only ones affected by the drug trade. In order to finance their habit, many addicts turn to violence and a life of crime. The Sociology of Juvenile Delinquency says: “Rivalries in crack [cocaine] distribution networks have turned some inner-city communities into urban ‘dead zones,’ where homicide rates are so high that police have written them off as anarchic badlands.”
Drug abuse, of course, is far from being a problem only in the United States. According to one estimate, every year anywhere from 160,000 to 210,000 people worldwide die from injecting drugs. In addition, millions use other types of harmful drugs, such as khat (a green-leaf stimulant), betel nut, and cocaine.
Alcohol: While hard drugs like crack cocaine and heroin capture public attention, the abuse of alcohol inflicts even more damage. Alcoholism “affects one in 10 Canadians,” reports The Medical Post, “and costs the health care system $10 billion a year.” It is estimated that in the United States, alcohol is a contributing factor in 50 percent of fatal automobile accidents and fires, 45 percent of drownings, and 36 percent of pedestrian accidents. Alcohol abuse is also implicated in many violent crimes. Those committing murder, assault, rape, child abuse, or suicide often have alcohol as a silent partner.
If someone you love has a physical dependence on alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, seek help.* God’s Word, the Bible, says that “a true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17) Yes, relying on the loving support of both family and friends can do much to help you cope with a difficult situation.
But for you to be truly healthy, more is required than good physical health. Mental and spiritual factors also play an important part in maintaining a healthy life-style. The following article will discuss this.
For a detailed discussion of a healthy diet, see Awake!, June 22, 1997, pages 7-13.
See the series “Help for Alcoholics and Their Families,” in the May 22, 1992, issue of Awake!
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“Adopting a healthy lifestyle does not mean that you have to stop enjoying life”
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The World Health Organization estimates that smoking claims three million lives annually
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“There’s room in a healthy diet for what you love, in some amount, virtually every day”
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Regular exercise can be a part of a healthy life-style
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Reject tobacco and illegal drugs
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Fruits and vegetables are good for you
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Even daily domestic chores can be healthy exercise