America spends more than any other country in the world on health care – and yet, as of 2010, ranked 36th in the world for life expectancy with the anticipation that the ranking will continue to slip. How can a country that spends so much on health care be this unhealthy? In my opinion, the problem is American culture and the lack of responsibility that seems to permeate every unhealthy decision. We seem to think that taking a pill will fix all of our ailments – or that back surgery is inevitable as we age. Neither of these are an absolute reality for people who elect to take care of themselves. Unfortunately, that is a minimal amount of the American population.
Are you type 2 diabetic and sick? Are you eating a box of doughnuts for breakfast and blaming your weight gain on poor genetics? Sure, maybe your genetic code sets you up to gain weight easily compared to a “normal” person, but your diet and food decisions drive your metabolism and the expression of your genes. Life isn’t fair, and that is truly unfortunate, but people with a genetic predisposition to gain weight need to be more vigilant in their food selection. A pyromaniac is safe if you don’t give him/her access to fire. But, give them a lit match and watch out.
Now, I will admit, not everyone suffering from type 2 diabetes, obesity, or cardiovascular disease eats the way I mentioned previously. Many people, in fact, believe they are eating well. Unfortunately, the food industry is filled with masterful marketers that lead us down the wrong path. For one, they recently started using the term multigrain to advertise products. This is genius because it sounds like it is better for the consumer than white bread. However, this actually means that it contains flour from multiple sources, not that it contains whole grains. These grains are highly pro-inflammatory – and chronic inflammation is linked to:
- Some cancers
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- And much more
As if eating healthy wasn’t hard enough, now we have to read every label to make sure we aren’t being tricked. If you are looking for wheat products, make sure it is 100% whole wheat. Even then, try to limit your servings to where it complements your fruit and vegetables. After all, while they provide nutrients, they are still going to ramp up your body’s inflammation.
How does exercise relate to the health crisis?
Next, only 20% of adults 18 years and older are getting the recommended amount of exercise for their overall health. This blows my mind because there are so many ways to exercise. Do you like to go to the gym and lift heavy weights for a couple hours? There is a gym for you. Is your schedule tight and you only have 30 minutes to devote to exercise? There are high intensity gyms available that will give you a full body workout in 20 minutes. Do you prefer working in nature? You can go on a hike. There is no excuse for not exercising 4-5 times a week – and the sooner we commit to this, the better off we will be now and in the future.
So, what are some health benefits to exercise? Here is a list from the Mayo Clinic:
- Controls weight gain
- Combats health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes
- Improves your mood
- Boosts your energy
- Promotes better sleep
- Helps your sex life
- Can be fun
These seem like pretty good benefits right? You are much healthier if you exercise regularly. The hard part, naturally, is starting a routine. Don’t wait until New Years to start a fleeting month long commitment to personal health. Look yourself in the mirror and make a commitment to your health today.
Where can we learn more about nutrition and exercise?
I realize some people have no idea where to start, and a life changing paradigm shift can be overwhelming. Do your best to take small steps every day toward your overall goal. Start off by taking a ten to twenty minute walk and work your way up to a gym membership or home workout routine.
Is food your vice? Take baby steps. For one, start removing things like potato chips and similar items from your pantry. These are some of the worst foods on the planet for you and should not be consumed regularly. Also, free yourself from soda if you have not already. A periodic coke isn’t the end of the world. After all, life is also about living. However, if you drink enough soda, you may find that type 2 diabetes (and its associated chronic inflammation) are the reason you have no energy, suffer from heart disease, and can’t feel your fingertips any more. Do you need somewhere to turn for good diet information? I recommend the book Eat To Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.
To sum everything up, American lifestyles are the reason for our nation’s health crisis. I apologize if this article feels like a sucker punch – but sometimes this is what you need to hear; not that everything is rainbows and butterflies. I am concerned about the health of this nation and you should be too. Our children want to see us grow old and free of debilitating, preventable diseases. We also need to be role models for our youth. There is no better day to take control of your health than today. Take a moment and seriously evaluate your health. Yes, it may be uncomfortable and painful – but it is always darkest before the dawn.