Last week I encouraged you to begin tracking 10 key “Health Indicators” as a sure fire way of staying on top of your health. Knowing these numbers will provide you with measurable data that provides ongoing feedback regarding the state of your health and alerts you when to take remedial action. In the discussion surrounding this topic, I often refer to the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices for you, your family and friends.
Your health isn’t something you worry about only when you’re sick. You also need to be thinking about your health when you’re healthy. The natural state for all humans is good health that’s free of illness. I know so many people that are either sick, just getting over a sickness, or feeling like they’re coming down with something. This is a warning sign that they’re lifestyle choices are causing an unnatural state.
So what are these lifestyle choices that will enhance your health and wellness? I hope these positive lifestyle choices below are not a surprised to any of you. As I say time and again, “Knowledge is Power, Action flicks the Switch.” It’s up to you to make these choices a life priority.
1) Alcohol intake
Excessive alcohol consumption has become a socially acceptable practice, to the point if you decline a drink at a social gathering because you’ve exceeded the limit associated with good heart health, you are considered strange, or in my case, the “Health Nut”.
Those fond of tipple may be dismayed, but the science on alcohol as an agent to promote heart health is anything from definitive. "If you already have heart disease, alcohol plays no role in your medicine cabinet; if [you do] not, alcohol is not the right way to reduce your risk," says Jonathan Whiteson, director of the Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Program at New York University Langone Medical Center. Some research has suggested that drinking red wine may increase ones HDL, or "good" cholesterol, but Whiteson notes that the boost is extremely minimal and "Exercise [offers] a better increase in HDL,".
Excessive drinking at social gatherings has become so socially acceptable; we now perform unnatural acts to get ourselves home safely and they’re considered responsible (designated drivers, sleeping over, taxi cabs, etc). The responsible and healthy thing to do is not drink so much to worry about whether you can drive a car safely. If you can’t drive yourself home, you’ve drank far too much alcohol for good heart health. While Dr Whiteson and I are not against one or two drinks in a social setting, it's certainly not something people—especially those with heart issues—should engage in with the idea that it will offer a heart benefit. In addition to the many heart related issues, drinking too much can also lead to high blood pressure and increased blood levels of triglycerides.
Bottom line: The American Heart Association suggests that healthy individuals, who drink, should do so in moderation. Moderation is defined as one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. And be careful with the pour: The AHA defines a drink as one 12-ounce beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits. And further emphasizes that weekly consumption is not cumulative. That means if you miss four days of drinking wine during the week, you can’t make it up on Saturday night by drinking what you missed during the week.
2) Salt Intake
Some experts say that the pervasive use of sodium in the North America diet is wreaking havoc on our cardiovascular systems. "Sodium causes retention of fluid within the circulation, and if you're sodium-sensitive, it expands your blood volume and can contribute to high blood pressure, stroke, and other heart disease," explains Clyde Yancy, medical director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and spokesman for the American Heart Association.
A report in January's New England Journal of Medicine suggested that if Americans reduced daily salt intake by 3 grams, we could significantly lower the annual number of new cases of coronary heart disease. The paper's authors noted research shows the average North American man consumes 10.4 grams of salt daily, while the average woman gets 7.3 grams.
Bottom line: The AHA recommends limiting salt intake to 1.5 grams daily. Be wary: Sodium creeps in via unexpected sources, and it's not so much the salt shaker on our table that's to blame. Research suggests we get as much as 80 percent of our daily salt intake from processed foods, which is why I encourage my readers to avoid fast food restaurants and the foods in the middle aisles of your grocery store, which is where you’ll find the processed edible, non-food. Check out these 10 common foods that are high in salt.
3) Sugar intake
It's not just the savory flavors that'll get you; sweets too, can ultimately become a cause for concern, says the American Heart Association. Like salt, sugar creeps into the processed foods that make up much of the American diet, and sweetened beverages—soda, juices, and sports drinks—are especially loaded with the stuff. Here's some disturbing math for you: A 12-ounce can of soda has about 8 teaspoons (or 33 grams) of added sugars, totaling about 130 calories. (A gram of sugar translates into 4 calories.)
A can of Coke or Pepsi basically takes you to the AHA's upper limit on the recommended amount of added sugar you should ingest on a daily basis. The association's primary concern is the number of excess calories that added sugars sneak into our diets and pile onto our waistlines, which can contribute to metabolic changes that increase the chances of developing a host of diseases.
Bottom line: According to the AHA, women should get no more than 100 calories per day of added sugars and men should stop at 150 calories per day. Check these surprising sources of sugar.
4) Hours of sleep per night
An over caffeinated America seems to perpetually crave more shut-eye, and evidence is cropping up to suggest that a poor night's sleep is not only felt the next day but could have implications for ones heart health over the long term. It is well established that sleep apnea, which results in numerous interruptions to breathing while asleep, is associated with stroke and coronary artery disease. The reason is not clear but it's been hypothesized that people with disrupted sleep breathing have higher blood pressure because they don't get the restorative sleep that normally allows blood pressure to go down and gives the cardiovascular system a break during slumber. A study I read in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that middle-aged people who received five hours of shut-eye or less a night had a greater risk of developing coronary artery disease than those who got eight hours. The clue was the beginnings of calcium buildup in their arteries, found by CT scanning long before the disease process would normally be picked up.
Bottom line: Get eight hours of sleep per night. Making it happen isn't easy, I know, I’m a night owl myself. For inspiration here are 10 ways to get a better sleep and maybe cure your insomnia.
You've heard it a thousand times, and the message stays the same: Regular, heart-thumping exercise offers a multitude of health benefits, particularly for cardiovascular fitness. Perhaps clinicians (and health advocates like me) keep bashing us over the head with this fact because of the eye-popping number of American adults who reported getting zero vigorous activity. In a 2008 Centers of Disease Control and Prevention survey: 59 percent never exercised, and given the fact that greater than 70% of Americans and 52% of Canadian’s are now either overweight or obese, I suspect that number is low. I always tell people to find an activity they love and do it every day. Well I have to be realistic and accept the fact that not everyone is like me and my athletic friends that love working out. So I developed a program that maximizes the benefits associated with training, while at the same time minimizing the time required. Stay tuned, for a future blog on my “Max-20” workout program.
Bottom line: Exercise, is one pill that treats numerous ills. It can touch so many risk factors for heart disease, including reducing weight, reducing stress, improving blood sugar profiles, bringing down high blood pressure, and lowering total cholesterol, lowering LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), increasing HDL (the "good" cholesterol), and lowering triglycerides in the blood. A previous blog of mine spoke about some of the excuses people give why they won’t exercise. Here are 15 of the common excuses I hear all the time and why they don’t fly with me.
Need I have to say anything? Well a 2009 study of Norwegians found that heavy smokers—those who puff at least 20 cigarettes per day—were 2.5 times more likely to die over a 30-year period than nonsmokers. But the cardiovascular risks associated with smoking aren't just seen in chain smokers. The more nuanced message that doesn't always get across is the risk that the occasional smoker is exposed to. Even 10 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure may affect cardiovascular function. Just because you might not smoke a pack a day or even a week doesn't mean you're in the clear. "There is no safe level of exposure" to tobacco smoke.
Bottom line: To protect against heart disease (not to mention cancer, stroke, and reproductive problems), the goal is to smoke exactly zero cigarettes. If you smoke, STOP! If you’re around a person that smokes, LEAVE! And don’t apologize, after all, they’re trying to kill you.
Today, consuming a good diet for maintaining your health is of paramount importance. In these times of higher pollution rates, soil degradation, pesticides, sedentary lifestyles and the wide availability of fatty, sugary and processed foods, we need good food now more than ever before. This is a topic that requires on-going blog posts just to keep up with the ever changing landscape of information and misinformation often motivated by big money. Food is huge business and “Big Food” is not interested in your health and will use deceptive marketing tactics targeted at you the shopper, to ensure they meet their financial targets at the expense of your health, the health of your family and the out-of-control costs associated with healthcare delivery.
Bottom Line: Without the benefits of key components of a wide variety of natural, fresh foods, there is the potential to suffer from a range of chronic degenerative diseases as well as some acute conditions. So what exactly constitutes a good diet? There are key components humans can’t live without, and they are as follows: vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fiber. Monitor this blog for regular updates for information pertaining to healthy food choices that ensure you receive the necessary nutrients to maintain your “health indicators” throughout your life.
8) Stay Hydrated
Our bodies are nearly 70% water, so it should come as no surprise that water is essential to maintaining health and prolonging life. We use water to regulate body temperature, protect our joints and organs, and to help transport oxygen to cells. But in order for water to keep our bodies in check, we need to make sure that its levels are constantly replenished. The solution is simple: hydrate. Although the common prescription of drinking eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day has been called a myth, the message isn’t necessarily a bad one.
Bottom Line: Drink water and drink often. Other liquids are not replacements for water. Soft drinks, energy replacement drinks and vitamin water don't count. If you exercise, you require even more water as your performance will be significantly impaired without proper replenishment.
“Regret is the real cancer of life”, don’t regret making positive lifestyle choices today for you and your family that may lead to serious health issues 20 to 40 years from now that rob you time and/or quality of life. Monitoring your key health indicators throughout your life will only provide you information; it takes action on your part to make the healthy choices I shared with you above a priority throughout your life. If you make these simple and proactive adjustments to your lifestyle, you will enjoy a long and healthy life.
Finally, making these adjustments as a nation of people will not only have positive outcomes at the individual level, it will have a profound financial impact at the national level. Taking care of yourself is only part of the solution. Our healthcare systems are seriously ill and on life support in part because of their own doing because they have focused too much on the treament of illness and not enough on the prevention of it. But we too have to accept partial blame for the state we're Healthcare is in, because of the exponential cases of illnesses associated with degenerative diseases due to poor lifestyle choices. Change on mass will only occur through a grass roots movement of people like you that make health a priority for yourself and your extended network. Lead by example and be the “health nut” amongst your circle of friends, family and colleagues.
My ask of you is to share your healthy habits with at least 5 to 10 people this and every week, and motivate them to do the same. Be a health advocate. Leverage this blog site if they don’t know how to start. Watch the 3 minute video below to see how one “nut” can create an entire movement. Let’s all be that ‘nut” and make a difference.
Enjoy the Ride …. Rob