One thing is certain in the field of health: what is common wisdom today can easily become “misapplied science” tomorrow. What’s “in” this year may be “out” next year. Often it’s hard to arrive at the right answer.
For example: Oily fish is good for you because the Omega-3′s are so healthy, but oily fish is bad because it can be contaminated with heavy metals, but oily fish is good because recent tests prove it’s not actually very contaminated, but oily fish is bad because the fishing industry paid for those tests…you get my point.
The Fats vs. Carbs argument is another. So when a reader recently asked about regular fasting as a means of maintaining good health, I had to re-evaluate my point of view slightly. What I found surprised me and convinced me to add a new twist to my ongoing health-and-anti-aging regimen. It’s called Intermittent Fasting – or IF.
At your recommendation, we’ve added a few more excellent blogs to the blogroll. Be sure to check out the updated list.
Thanks to all of you who have participated in the fruit bowl submissions. We have several highly-edible produce pictures from you so far. (They sure look a lot better than mine. I am clearly camera-challenged. I’m waiting for the drug to fix this condition.) Next week we’ll be sharing them, so if you’d still like to participate, send those pics in! Just think: your fruit bowl could be famous! Contain your excitement, people.
Mark’s published some excellent and controversial (but of course) posts on fitness and sports around the web. For all you runners, ex-runners and fitness freaks, here’s a sampling, complete with teasers:
“There are three main points I want to make here: first, that it is impossible to fairly police and adjudicate drugs in sport; second, that the notion of a “level playing field” is a farce and, finally, that the performance requirements set by the federations at the elite level of sport almost demand access to certain “banned substances” in order to assure the health and vitality of the athlete throughout his or her career and – more importantly – into his or her life after competition.”
“Since many people seem to think that athletes are almost by definition healthy, I thought I might develop that idea a bit further…
Please don’t misconstrue what I say here as advocating any sort abstinence from sports or from training. On the contrary, I believe sports of all types can play a huge role in personal development, self-awareness and self-image, and may even help mold long-lost community life-skills like sharing, mutual cooperation and loss acceptance. I will make a case that sports and other non-group recreational exercise activities can contribute greatly to health, longevity and the quality of life. But, as with all things in life, moderation seems to be the key.
I first became aware of the distinction between “fitness” and “health” when I was competing as a marathoner…”
We face eight key health challenges as we age.
The steps you take to prevent and mitigate these challenges can make the difference between just hobbling through your golden years and actually thriving. There’s just no reason not to enjoy energy and vitality well into your seventies, eighties and beyond.
Here are the top health issues we all must face when we descend to the other side of the hill, and the smart steps you can take – now – to stop them. Although I think it’s worth stating that the hill metaphor of life should be chucked entirely. “Over the hill” doesn’t make sense in this day and age with all the amazing scientific and nutritional advances of which we can take endless advantage. So I prefer to think of life as a gently sloping valley that gets a bit steeper the closer you get to the other side. You just need a few more tools to ace the slope.
1. Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome
This is the biggest cause of preventable death, because it’s linked to virtually all the other major causes of death (cancer, diabetes, heart disease). 75% of adults over 60 are overweight or obese. Obesity and poor health go hand in hand. It’s almost impossible to live a long, healthy life if you are seriously overweight. No wonder we’ve got such a massive health care tab and drastically reduced quality of life among seniors. Though I ought to quibble with the BMI, for the purposes of this post I won’t. The general guideline is to make sure your waist is less than 40″ if you’re a man and 35″ if you’re a woman. I don’t recommend focusing on LDL cholesterol to the detriment of other crucial factors like raising your good (HDL) cholesterol and keeping your triglycerides and inflammation under absolute control.
The four simple steps required:
- Eat smart protein that contains good fat: grass-fed meat, wild fish, DHA-enhanced eggs, fermented tofu (and take a fish oil supplement, too).
- Cook with olive oil or walnut oil.
- Absolutely avoid all refined foods that contain processed grains, sugars, corn syrup, starch, flour, etc.
- Move a little. A daily walk is sufficient if you do your best to make it brisk.
Half of us will get it. I even have osteoarthritis from my time as a pro runner. We’re also prone to joint troubles thanks to our primal past – er, the fact that we walk upright hasn’t quite registered with our DNA. Hence, we experience knee and back issues like they’re going out of style (only as of yet, they are not). Of course, obesity is a big culprit. Losing just ten pounds can cut your risk in half.
I manage arthritis successfully by doing the following:
- Taking at least a gram of fish oil daily.
- Reducing free radical oxidation with…a diet high in vegetables, gluttonous amounts of olive oil, a few glasses of wine a week, and a potent antioxidant supplement.
- Following all the tips in #1.
- Resistance (weight-bearing) exercise at least 3 times a week.
3. Osteoporosis and Falls
Despite our love affair with Blunder Tonic, osteoporosis is one of our most prevalent diseases (and curiously missing from places like Africa and Asia where they consume little dairy). I don’t go in for the whole “dairy actually causes osteoporosis” scare manufacturing – protein will not leach calcium from your bones. But dairy will also not prevent osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is caused by a lack of exercise (particularly weight-bearing activity) and lack of sunlight exposure.
You can be a vegan or live on smoked gouda for all I care, but be warned: the triple-whammy of being overweight, sedentary and spending all your time indoors will set you up for osteoporosis guaranteed. And a simple fracture in old age can mean death. Falls are the #1 cause of death in people over 65. That’s just crazy, isn’t it?
Your risk for cancer just increases as you age. I think of aging as being, essentially, progressive tissue wasting. As we age we are simply more susceptible to damage (oxidative, environmental, stress, deficiency, atrophy, you name it). It becomes that much harder for our cells to repair themselves. Immunity becomes compromised. Metabolism slows. Muscles weaken. Susceptibility to disease increases. You have to take sensible steps to mitigate – and prevent – the increased health risks of aging.
Aside from following the sensible diet, exercise, and supplement advice I’ve touched on, you should also be very proactive about medical screenings. Get over the hang-ups or nerves and just go see your doctor regularly because this is the best way to beat cancer. Cancer simply isn’t the death sentence it used to be – far from it. Caught early, survival rates – even five years out – are stunning. Live a sensible lifestyle, get screened, and should you happen to get cancer, your chances for many more quality years are excellent if you take immediate action. If you do not have insurance, there are plenty of economical options for routine screenings in most major cities, so do a little homework. (Of course, quitting smoking, managing stress and avoiding excess alcohol are hopefully things that go without saying.)
5. Cardiovascular Disease
See #1. Cardiovascular disease (CHD) is an umbrella term that includes heart disease, heart attacks, hypertension, arrhythmia and many other cardiovascular complications. In this case, prevention pays: follow a healthy lifestyle and your risk for CHD drops by a massive 80%. That’s huge!
- Get exercise (walking, hiking and intervals are great).
- Don’t smoke.
- Limit salt.
- Avoid all processed foods.
6. Vision and Hearing Loss
Aside from the basic preventive measures like careful sunlight exposure, resting your eyes, and not subjecting your ear drums to your teenager’s sound system emanations, you can actually eat your way to healthy vision and hearing.
A diet high in produce – I’m talking at least, at least 6 servings of vegetables daily, and preferably 9-12 – will provide your eyes and ears with a protective antioxidant arsenal against aging. No smoking, either. To stave off hearing loss, experts recommend that you avoid earbuds and use regular old headphones if you can – or at least don’t shove the buds into your ears tightly.
I’ll say one thing, and one thing only: floss. Of course you brush twice daily, and few people need dentures anymore, but you can reduce inflammation and infection – not to mention cavities and expensive dental procedures – with daily flossing. Flossing also helps with bad breath.
8. Mental Health: Memory and Emotional Well-Being
Memory loss is not a requisite of aging. At all. Stress is what affects our cognition, alertness, memory and emotional health. To stay healthy and mentally sharp, you must limit stress.
- Exercise. End of story!
- Find a spiritual or emotional outlet such as meditation, yoga, prayer, or being in nature.
- Don’t think of yourself as old. You’re not. Mental outlook and a positive attitude are vital. Taking care of yourself can easily ensure you of 80, 90 or even 100 full years. Don’t talk about “senior moments” and your “brain farts”. Since when is a little extra life experience a reason to think of yourself as aged and crumbling? We’re not blue cheese. We’re people.
- Maintain at least a few close friendships (this is crucial).
- Hug or kiss someone you care about every day. Touch is really important, particularly as we age, when isolation and loss become more common.
- Have a pet, adopt a child, spoil the grandkids – love someone who is dependent upon you.
You also need to take active measures to keep the brain both elastic and healthy.
- Learn a language or build your math skills.
- Read a book a month, or better yet, a week. It is shocking how little we read. Choose difficult books or new topics and mix it up: novels, philosophy, history, memoir. Avoid the emotional political books and other pop culture reads that contain mostly irrational opinion (hey, that’s what blogs are for). Those “books” only cement stagnant and ignorant beliefs rather than truly challenging your mind. They calcify the brain.
- Stay current with technology and trends. Don’t start dressing like your kids (you mortify them enough as it is) but stay informed and interested. Learn and use new technologies like blogging, social bookmarking, portable communication devices, and media players.
- Travel, if you can. If not, make sure to expose yourself to new groups, communities, activities and hobbies. Try to make several new friends every year.
- Learn something new every day. Encourage curiosity and nurture growth.
Health is cumulative. The way you treat yourself aggregates. You must take care of yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend or your children. Do you feel depressed? Are you overweight? You are not taking care of yourself! And it will catch up with you, sooner than you think. If you are suffering from health problems as a result of personal neglect, you’re sending a pretty clear message that you don’t care about yourself. Why?
This post was inspired by an article at WebMD
Sometimes, I really miss the old days of tearing into mouthfuls of raw carcass and foraging for bulging grubs on the forest floor. Other days, it’s the memory of cliffside danglings in pursuit of a choice lingonberry that mists my eyes. In this era of vending machine manna from carb heaven and canned chemical sweetness and gleaming aisles of ever-sturdy trans-fat delicacies, living life on the primal side of health ain’t easy. Here’s how I cope.
What is Primal Health?
Last week I riffed at length about my passionate philosophy I’ve nicknamed “primal health”. Don’t worry – no grub ingestion required.
Quick recap: I believe human health issues – from nutrition to stress to weight loss to fitness – must be considered from a biological perspective. Our Primal blueprints – our DNA – tell us everything we need to know about optimal health. The reasons for my point of view are many, but primarily, I’m a biology buff and I love a bloody steak. To borrow an apt phrase I once overheard, if the cow stood in the sun, that’s cooked enough for me. (OK, OK, I’m kidding! I’ve gone years at a time without eating red meat.)
We’ve all heard the commonly asserted “fact” that humans are living longer than they ever have in history. You hear about people in the Middle Ages dying at 35, and early humans evidently fared even worse.
This is a little misleading. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, lived longer than most Americans do today – well into his 80s by most accounts. The reason people “back then” croaked so soon was because they had to worry about tribal wars, broken limbs, deficiency diseases and starvation. And because humans had recently decided it would be cool to live together in really crowded conditions – but hadn’t yet invented sewers – millions died from infectious diseases and plagues. It’s not as if the absolute human lifespan was any shorter than it is now. There just happened to be a lot more obstacles getting in the way of a decent lifespan.
Going back further, the earliest humans had to concern themselves with such pleasantries as ice storms and mammoths, and pesky campfire annoyances such as marauding wolves and tigers with four-inch teeth. But provided you (you’re now my proverbial early human) didn’t fall off a cliff, starve for lack of roots and berries, or become lunch for a predator, you could live a nice, long life not unlike people today. Those ice age ancestors were – to borrow a tech phrase – extremely robust. In fact, more than most of us today.
Which brings me to people today. We don’t have to worry about the elements, the animals, or starving to death (in this country, anyway). And it gets better: we don’t have to stress too much over broken limbs, infections and epidemics. The flu killed 50 million people just a few generations back. Now it typically kills a few thousand people every year – not a happy number, but certainly an improvement. However, I don’t think our high success rate, defined in terms of the majority of people making it to their 70s, is much of a success. I don’t want to “make it” – I want to relish every second. We “make it” by hobbling along with multiple drugs and surgeries, but are we really doing any better than the folks of yesteryear who had to deal with beriberi and scurvy? (Deficiency, by the way, is a problem right here in the United States, right now.)
We’re living longer, on average, but are we living better?
We have tremendous potential to harness our critical intelligence, myriad resources and powerful knowledge into a truly healthy society. But something’s been lost in translation. And the past, as represented in our DNA, offers clarity. As my contractor friends say, “When in doubt, refer to the blueprints.”
While I’m not advocating a diet of slimy grubs and still-steaming flesh, it is clear that humans evolved following some basic parameters:
- Diet: mostly raw, always whole, generally fresh foods.
Modern translation: meat, seafood, eggs, berries, roots, fruits, nuts and greens.
- Exercise in spurts: occasional cardio, but mostly walking, pushing, pulling, heaving, and hauling.
Modern translation: resistance training, weight-bearing activity, hiking, sports, yoga, stretching, pilates, walking.
- Appropriate stress response: “fight or flight” kept early humans alive and kicking (often literally).
Modern translation: address the stress of commutes, bills, and teenagers sensibly, because your body still thinks it’s fighting those mammoths, tigers, and wolves.
That’s how our DNA blueprints were drafted and, like it or not, that’s what our bodies still expect of us. How we choose to “adapt” to those primal instructions can determine whether we thrive and enjoy a long fulfilled life or whether we start down that slippery slope towards illness, depression and dependency.
In the coming weeks, I’ll address each of these issues specifically, offering my perspective, practical applications, and helpful references (including, of course, insightful scientific studies). Taking a walk on the primal side is actually incredibly easy, intuitive and natural. And I’ll show you how.
What are your thoughts? What lifestyle works best for you?
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How can you turn this down?
Health, in my view, is really about enjoyment and quality of life. It’s not all celery sticks and cardio – far from it. Dark chocolate and red wine shouldn’t be consumed with the reckless abandon I sincerely hope you reserve for vegetables, but they are reasonably healthy indulgences. Here’s how to indulge a little more (am I looking out for you or what?).
My editor, Sara, shares this tip: wash and chop up 2 pounds of fresh tomatoes. (Don’t bother with that canned stuff if you want the healthiest possible sauce. This is easy.) Add in half your normal amount of water or broth (you’ll see why in a second). Next add several fresh garlic cloves and any other spices or herbs you fancy in your tomato sauce. The antioxidant boost: after the tomatoes have simmered and stewed for a while, pour in 1 cup of red wine. Between the cooked tomatoes, garlic and wine, you’ll have a sauce so good, you’ll want to drink it and forget about whatever you were going to pour it on (better not be pasta).
Buy the darkest, most bitter, pure chocolate you can find. Even mass chocolate manufacturers like Hershey’s are pushing darker and darker chocolates. You can find upwards of 70% these days without breaking a sweat. Melt a bar in a saucepan with a big dash of cayenne pepper, a generous pinch of oregano or marjoram, a touch of olive oil, and a decent sprinkle of sea salt. You now have a very interesting and incredible reduction to drizzle over your pork chops. Just trust me.
A necessary word of caution: I am not recommending a future career as a lush here. But you might enjoy splitting up that nightly glass of red into two small glasses (emphasis on small) and having a splash of wine at lunch. Many cultures around the world enjoy a little swill at noon. Obviously, this won’t work for everyone depending on schedules and workplace expectations. And, if alcohol is something that you tend to indulge too much in, then skip this tip (matter of fact, skip this post).
Chocolate for breakfast? Sure. This tip is for the morning vice crowd. If you want whiter teeth and you never seem to eat anything for breakfast, tackle both issues by eating a piece of dark chocolate instead of coffee. You’ll get some fat and caffeine to nourish your brain, quell your starving stomach and stimulate your nerves. I think some sliced tomatoes or scrambled eggs are both obviously better ideas for your mornings, but if you’re a coffee junkie and you have trouble ingesting a morning dose of calories, hey, I say work with the problem instead of fighting it. Dark chocolate still has some sugar, so if you’re trying to lose weight or if you need to watch your blood sugar, stick to the scrambled eggs.
Just kidding! Don’t do that.
Do you need to cut out refined carbohydrates like pasta, candy, pastries and soda? Everyone does. Eliminating refined carbohydrate intake is a critical first step in losing weight, ridding yourself of mood swings, and simply improving your overall health. But be sure you create a system to reward yourself a little for each step you take to better health. For example, you might eliminate your three biggest vices (let’s say they’re pasta, potatoes, and soda). For each day you avoid these three vices, you get three small squares of dark chocolate. Eat them at night for a serotonin boost that will improve your sleep and make you feel happy. Three squares typically contain around 10 grams of sugar. While not ideal, that’s a lot better than several hundred grams from a serving of refined carbs at each meal.
Skip the sugary, trans-fat-clogged, chemical-laden store salad dressings and whip up an antioxidant- and immune-boosting dressing at home. Mix equal parts red wine with a tasty vinegar. Next, blend equal parts of this mixture and olive oil. This is an easy, healthy dressing that will liven up your greens (which I hope you’re eating every day).
Note: wine doesn’t last more than a few days at most, so don’t make big batches of the stuff. Just enough for a few meals.
This is not really something to eat daily, but if you’re a candy lover and you’re in need of a healthier substitute, have a square of dark chocolate with some fresh-roasted, organic, sugar-free almond butter. After a few weeks of this, if you try out the ole Cups, you’ll be put off by the chemical taste. Guaranteed candy cure. (You MDA frequent fliers know I’m really not a substitute kind of guy – to be healthy, you gotta eat healthy, end of story. I happen to think salads and grilled lean meats taste amazing and I think living on indulgent junk food is anything but living. However, some treats really are pretty decent for you – almond butter is full of Omega-3′s and fiber, and a little dark chocolate is fine.)
Think about switching your soda to wine. Again, huge disclaimer: this is not a recommendation to become Peter O’Toole. This is strictly for soda addicts. The purpose is to get you to realize what you’re actually doing to your body. For most folks – I’m not talking about alcoholics – soda is far worse for the body than wine (and unlike wine, has zero marginally redeeming health benefits). Downing multiple sodas may be socially acceptable, but it’s addictive and enormously destructive to health. The problem is that it intoxicates your body in an entirely different – and perhaps more insidious – way than alcohol. Soda does terrible damage, but you don’t “feel” the damage immediately. The closest thing is a sugar crash, in which case, most people just have another soda to stave it off. The problem with soda is that the internal destruction isn’t really noticeable until you’re overweight, diabetic, depressed and wondering why you have a mood crash every day at 3 p.m. If you drink a glass of wine, however, you feel it. You don’t need a second (I hope). So just imagine what all those sodas were actually doing to your body.
Gee, that’s just super, Mark, but I drink soda at work. No problem: to get off the lunchtime soda habit, have a glass of water and a piece of fruit. You’re just dehydrated.
The idea for this headline came from Lyndon. Thanks!
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