Health insurance usually has very little to do with health. In fact, old insurance plans typically covered only diseases, and it wasn't possible to bill for "health care maintenance." Doctors had to find a "problem" to address, and prevention was a thing that only few health insurers covered. Now we realize that health is really about doing the right thing, day after day after day, to maintain a good weight, a healthy lifestyle and a good mental health perspective.
Three key behaviors that can boost your health haven't changed much in the last 20—or even 50—years.
Diet and Nutrition - Noted local author Michael Pollan has a series of books on food and eating. His latest, "Food Rules," is his shortest and most useful. It lists 64 rules on eating that expand on his simple seven words: eat food, mostly plants, not too much. Simplified, he says eat things your grandmother would recognize. Don't eat things with more than five ingredients in them, or with ingredients you can't pronounce. Eat as much fresh (and unprocessed) foods as possible. Chocolate, a small amount of red wine, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts) and a little meat (especially fish) are all probably good for you. Finally, avoid high fructose corn syrup (check the label) and drink water, usually six glasses a day - more if your urine is dark yellow.
Exercise - There have been many debates on what is adequate, but little debate on the benefits. We know exercise helps mental function. It is an excellent anti-depressant. It helps with cardiac output by pumping blood up from the legs as the legs squeeze (as in the action of walking). It reduces dementia (by increasing blood flow and balance, agility and strength). Exercise may be as simple as walking at least 30 minutes a day or it may be commuting by bicycle two hours a day. Many people visit gyms or swim in pools. All of these work, but the excuse that someone "walks at work" is usually not enough unless you walk more than 10,000 steps (3 miles).
Good Sleep - Sleep is underrated. Ask any of the tens of millions of Americans who don't sleep well. They toss and turn, and have daytime sleepiness and headaches. True, there may be an underlying cause, such as sleep apnea, but more often it's a lack of exercise and poor nighttime habits that intrude. Some simple things: don't stay up watching TV if you have trouble sleeping. Don't eat food after 7 p.m., especially chocolate, coffee or excessive sugar. Consider reading in bed for a few minutes. Consider taking a warm bath or shower. Maybe rub your partner's feet with oil. Perhaps rub your own. Make sure your bed is comfortable (and not more than 10 years old), the room is quiet, dark and cool.
Finally, stay connected with friends and family. Depression and isolation are constant threats in today's fast-paced world. Too often, people don't take the time for a meal or a walk with a friend. Can you combine one of the first two activities with a social visit?
Keep these few simple guidelines in mind and you'll likely live longer and happier.
Dr. Pepper is a family physician at the Martinez Health Center.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.
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