The one thing in life that is constant is change. We often have no control over the changes, but sometimes we do. When it comes to our health, we have control over our future health while we are still healthy. Once we become unhealthy, we have less control and if we develop a chronic illness or a cancer, we have minimal control.
When I visit with patients in the office or give lectures, I review a list of recommended changes that should be made in order to ensure good health. We discuss the health benefits of eating lots of vegetables, choosing the right number of low-sugar fruits, eating nutritious grains and taking supplements. We talk about the importance of limiting animal products and avoiding as many processed foods as possible.
I also recommend daily exercise, stress management and quality sleep. Many times at the end of the discussion, people say that it is too difficult to make the recommended changes. What I try to explain is that it’s your choice: either you can change now, voluntarily, or the health consequences of living an unhealthy lifestyle will force you to change later on. It is much more difficult to recover from a heart attack, bypass surgery or regain health after a bout with cancer.
Once hit with bad health, we have much less control over our future health. For the last 20 years I have seen patients, friends and family try to recover from the negative consequences of living an unhealthy life. It is much harder to recuperate than it is to stay healthy in the first place.
Prevention is the key to good health. Medical care is focused too much on fixing a problem after people develop diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, obesity and other conditions after a lifetime of unhealthy living. Physicians are often in the role of figuring out a plan to fix the problem, which is much harder to accomplish as compared to simply preventing the problem in the first place.
Let’s use osteoporosis as an example. When osteoporosis develops, the individual is at significant risk of bone fracture. When a hip fracture occurs, many of these individuals never get back to normal function; and some end up in a nursing home. When we look at the health recommendations known to prevent osteoporosis, we see that eating foods that lower the acid level in the body help to keep the bones strong. This includes most vegetables in general, and specifically all green leafy vegetables.
Foods that increase acid levels promote bone loss. These include processed meats, dairy and most of the sugary foods. Research shows that eating more natural, non-processed foods makes a significant difference in how our bones stay strong. The research also shows that eating natural foods loaded with anti-oxidants and other health-promoting chemicals lowers the risk of all the major cancers. Foods with rainbow colors are filled with essential vitamins and minerals that keep all the cells of the body healthy.
Looking at the health of the population over the last 100 years, we see the tremendous rise in preventable chronic illnesses and cancers. Look at all the research money that goes into medications and other therapies to treat these problems, yet they continue to plague this country and all other countries that live a similar lifestyle.
When we study the places in the world where people live the longest, the common denominators for good health and a longer life are the simple things — eating healthy foods; daily activity that keeps the heart, muscles, bones and brain strong; getting quality sleep; and limiting the stress in life. And to that, I’ll add being grateful for the blessings we do have and finding ways to “give back” and “pay it forward.”
In summary, we can voluntarily decide to make changes now for better health or we may be forced to change later in an attempt to regain good health. The choice is yours. I hope you chose a healthy lifestyle over years of disability, medications, doctor visits and hospitalizations. I would rather visit with you in the community rather than in the hospital.
So stay well my friends. Live life to the fullest by living healthy!
Dr. Salvatore Lacagnina is vice president of health and wellness for Lee Memorial Health System.