In a recent health tip I commented that we Americans hadn’t learned much when it comes to taking care of ourselves. Over a decade’s time, our smoking habits had leveled off rather than diminished and we were actually exercising less, getting fatter, and making more unhealthful food choices.
I added, with a justifiable sense of pride in my patients, that these statistics didn’t apply to our WholeHealth Chicago practice. That although your bodies may be feeling buffeted by different manifestations of stress, you do take good care of yourselves and that I actually see fewer patients with heart disease, emphysema, cancer, and diabetes than most of my physician colleagues.
Taking this a step further, a notable study appeared in the current issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, the actual title of which is the same as the title of this health tip.
Epidemiologists working at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, in cooperation with our own Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, tracked the lives of 23,153 German adults between the ages of 33 to 65 over a period of 7.8 years. Investigators wanted to count how many participants in this group would develop any of the following conditions, the “big four” of chronic illness in Western societies: diabetes, heart attack, stroke, or cancer.
During the period of the study, they asked whether or not participants had engaged in any of the following lifestyle choices:
1. Not smoking.
2. Performing 3.5 hours per week of regular exercise.
3. Having a BMI (body-mass index) below 30 (i.e., normal weight). To calculate your BMI, click here.
4. Adhering to healthy nutrition principles (high intake of fruit and veggies, whole grains, low meat consumption).
Pretty straightforward scoring: participants could have zero, 1, 2, 3, or 4 “healthy factors.”
At the end of the 7.8 years, 2006 participants (or 3.7%) developed at least one of the four illnesses. And as you might have figured, there was a direct correlation between the number of healthy choices engaged in and the risk of developing the various diseases.
To keep it simple, those in the study who had four “healthy factors” had virtually no chronic illness. They scored better than people with a score of three or fewer.
Common sense tells us that these would be the results. Major insights into the obvious.
Despite the simple, straightforward way this study shows us how to avoid chronic illness–and the shortened life expectancy that usually follows–it also challenges us to answer questions that require a bit of self-exploration, including “Why am I not living a healthful life?” or “Could it be that I really don’t care whether or not I feel less than well and will just take my chances when it comes to developing a chronic illness or dying prematurely?”
I wonder if a lot of us might be making unhealthful choices because we’re struggling with symptoms of unrecognized mild depression. And maybe, just maybe, you’re tendency to eat high-carb junk food, drink too much alcohol, light up a cigarette, or loll around thumbing the remote control is your personal way of dealing with this mild but lurking depression.
Trust me on this last statement. Every time you think you’re a complicated individual, know that underneath, you’re far more complicated than you could ever imagine.
David Edelberg, MD