Sensible Ways to Feel Better

We kick off a new series, DIY Checkup

Monday, June 14, 2010 - 06:04 AM

There's a lot of hand-wringing in America about health. We're constantly being reminded that we're the fattest nation on the planet, that we're addicted to video games and TIVO and Big Macs and 1000-calorie cocktails. We don't exercise enough, we're too tethered to technology, we have horrible "sleep hygiene", love handles, salt addictions, and complacent attitudes. It's almost impossible to lecture Americans any more about the need to get healthy.
And yet -- all that talk hasn't lead to much action. While we spend billions on health products, self-help books, and diet tools:
  • Two out of three of Americans don't get enough exercise, more than three out of four don't get enough fruits and vegetables, and one in five smoke.
  • Almost half of all of Americans have chronic conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis, 80 percent of which some doctors believe can be significantly improved — if not cured — through lifestyle changes.
  • The CDC also notes, 7 out of 10 deaths are the result of chronic diseases. This is not to say that by fighting chronic disease, we can live forever. But by making some changes, we can improve the quality of our lives as we age, and earn more years with friends, family and love ones — and fewer years spent in hospitals, managed care, or bedridden.
  • Chronic illnesses cause 2.5 billion days of missed work a year, according to a 2001 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and result in half of the healthc are expenditures in the U.S.
  • There's a rise in Americans with multiple chronic conditions, which has raised the cost of out-of-pocket medical costs from $427-$741 over a ten year period, according to the journal Health Affairs.

All that lecturing obviously isn't doing any good, so we don't intend to pile it on. Instead of telling people that they need to get healthy, we at The Takeaway and Newsweek want to re-examine what healthy means, and why that definition changes depending on who's asking. Rather than deluge people with blanket prescriptions and scary stats (well, aside from the ones we listed above), we want to make it easy for people to personalize their own health strategies, and to get the most benefit from the work they put in. 

There's a lot about our health that is out of our control: Our genetics, environment, and social systems can dictate both what illnesses we're prone to and how easily those illnesses are triggered. But there are lots of things we can do within those parameters to stay ahead of the genetic and environmental curve. For the rest of the summer, we'll explore how to stay healthy.

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Comments [1]

Robert M. Oliva, ND from Floral Park

Social systems dictate how we live, the activities we do each day, the amount of physical work required, the mental stresses we chronically encounter, etc. We do what seems to be natural within the social system we live in. For us it's "natural" to get in our cars each morning. It is "natural" to eat large meals, it is "natural" to drink soda and eat processed foods. It is "natural" to live with chronic stress. All of these unhealthy behaviors are built into the social fabric. They seem natural to us. That's why all the lecturing does little good. We are asking people to act in ways that seem "unnatural" to the way they normally live. I suggest that it is in some ways unfair to ask people to take personal responsibility for what they eat, and how often they exercise, etc, without helping them recognize how our society and its institutions create and perpetuate ill health. We must move to change the system that makes unhealthy lifestyles seem "natural." This approach points to the social basis of our individual health problems. Health is a social issue as much as an individual one. When there are sick people, there is a sick society. Forging a healthy society is a path to our own individual well-being.

Jun. 14 2010 02:16 PM

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