“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” ~ Buddha
After more than fifteen years working on the corporate and management side of healthcare, I’ve witnessed a broken system from almost every angle. The U.S. currently has the highest per capita spending among developed countries. Yet we are 22nd in life expectancy. What’s more, many of the top causes for mortality are highly preventable.
In his recent best-seller, The End of Illness, David B. Agus, MD suggests actions we can take to prevent illness and improve our quality of life. He makes a strong case that, “illness is largely preventable” and even argues that most cancer deaths are quite avoidable.” He discusses the importance of taking responsibility for our own health and realizing we can control many factors that determine health. Our DNA only creates probabilities of illness but our lifestyle choices determine far more. He also advocates for taking a more “personalized” approach to medicine.
Dr. Agus’s wellness recommendations include:
1. Understand Your Family’s Health History – According to Agus, learning about your family health tree is a proactive way for you to identify some of your potential health risks. The U.S. Surgeon General provides a free tool to help you create a family health tree . While it is important to understand your risks, Agus also points out that “DNA is more about our risk than our fate. It governs probabilities, not necessarily destinies….To hold your DNA responsible for your health is missing the forest for the trees.” Understand your health history but don’t use it as an excuse to not take responsibility for your lifestyle.
2. Eat Healthier – This can be easier said than done, but diet is a major factor in our long-term health outlook and is something we can control ourselves. We can be proactive with food and eat a preventative diet that helps counteract some of our hereditary risk factors.
3. Get Regular Exercise – Along with a healthy diet, regular exercise is perhaps the single most important thing you can do for your health. According to Agus, regular exercise:
- Fights the onset of age-related diseases
- Helps keep healthy weight
- Increases lung capacity
- Improves circulation
- Reduces stress
- Reduces inflammation
- Increases feelings of well being
A great story Agus relates in the book is that “In 1873, Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby, gave an address at Liverpool College in which he said, ‘Those who think they not have time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.’”
4. Avoid Sitting for Long Periods of Time – With more of us working in an office setting, spending time watching television or playing video games, sitting has become the norm. Studies have shown however, that sitting for long periods of time can be as insidious as smoking or excessive sun exposure in our risk for illness. Schedule brief walking breaks or other forms of movement during your day, even if you work out at other times. These movement breaks, even if you workout at other times, will also give you more energy while you are at work.
5. Keep a Regular Schedule – according to Agus, our bodies like consistency. Having a regular meal schedule and sleep schedule, along with consistent ways to exercise and reduce stress will benefit you in the long run. One interesting point is that dog owners are more likely to have a regular schedule thanks to the needs of their furry companions. Not to mention the added health benefits a pet can provide with their love and companionship.
6. Focus on Your Body’s Inherent Self-Healing Capabilities – Agus suggests clearly understanding any treatment for our bodies before we start them, including taking vitamins or supplements. “Think of the body as a self-maintaining factory; it is constantly regenerating itself down to every cell. Every month we renew our skin, every six weeks we have a new liver, and every three months we have new bones.”
Instead of jumping into the latest health fad, make sure there is a good basis to do so. Many physicians, including Agus, have stopped recommending that people take vitamins due to the lack of research that they prevent illness. Studies show that taking some vitamins may even expedite certain diseases such as cancer. Adding additional vitamins or other supplements may throw off your body’s natural equilibrium, actually slowing the healing process.
7. Find a Good Physician That Listens and One You can trust – Agus says, “Medicine is the art of observation and interpretation, which are skills that are not learned in a book. Until medicine becomes more of a science with the advancements of technology, you have to find someone who practices this art very well.”
What do you do to stay healthy? What critical points are missing? Share your thoughts below.