Let’s face it: The human body doesn’t come with an instruction book.
Yet, it is one of the most complex machines in the universe. Machines break for lots of reasons. But, ask any mechanic, and he’ll tell you a machine performs better with proper preventive maintenance and proper use.
While we don’t have an instruction book, we do have the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of more than 100,000 years of our forebears to guide us. While there are literally thousands of pearls of wisdom to living a healthy life, I’d like to help you prioritize some of the most important ones for physical health. I’ll call it “The Seven Habits of Highly Healthy People.”
The first habit of good physical health is avoidance of tobacco products. Decades of research have affirmed that smoking is one of the worst ways to abuse your body. Smoking is a leading risk factor for cancer and heart disease – the two leading causes of death in the U.S. It also contributes to chronic lung disease and a host of other preventable maladies. For those who already smoke or chew tobacco, call the Quitline for help at (800) QUIT-NOW.
Next, exercise daily. Virtually every preventable disease process is minimized by the practice of regular physical activity. Exercise does not have to be of the high-performance variety to be effective. Some of the healthiest and longest-lived people I have met simply take a daily walk. Children should get 60 minutes daily of sustained physical activity while adults need at least 30 minutes daily.
The third healthy habit is to maintain a healthy weight. Overweight status, defined as a body mass index of more than 24, has been linked to countless preventable health conditions from cancer and heart disease to premature osteoarthritis. This begins at an early age. It is much easier to prevent weight gain than to produce weight loss. The critical elements are healthy diet and regular exercise.
The fourth healthy habit is to follow a healthy diet. For simplicity, the critical elements are to reduce portion sizes and eat mostly plants. This includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The less your food is processed (think less packaging), the better it is likely to be for your health.
The fifth healthy habit is unnecessarily controversial. Get vaccinated. Walk around any early 20th-century cemetery, and you will see the graves of the young who mostly died from infectious diseases that are now vaccine-preventable. Vaccines are both safe and effective.
The sixth healthy habit is to get plenty of sleep. We live in a fast-paced, high-stress world. We are not designed for 18 to 20 hours of daily wakefulness. Kids need nine to 10 hours, and most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Poor sleep has been linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, obesity and premature death, just to name a few.
My final healthy habit is the old adage “moderation in all things.” While obviously there are some things that, for the sake of good health, should be avoided totally (think illicit drugs or high-risk sexual activities), moderation is a good general rule of thumb.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.