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Overall Health

It is important to be healthy and to do things that keep you healthy.

The Issue of Drugs and Alcohol

Before we get into other aspects of health, we need to say that if you do drugs of any kind (even occasionally), or if alcohol is a problem for you, the only way to start improving your health and have a long and productive life is to enroll and participate in an appropriate treatment program.

All of the recommendations below assume that you are drug- and alcohol-free or are taking active and serious steps to become so.

Health Basics

Getting healthy and staying healthy is not really difficult, provided you carefully follow certain basic rules in each of these seven areas:

  • Maintaining proper weight
  • Making healthy food choices
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Not smoking
  • Avoiding known hazards
  • Getting periodic checkups

Maintaining Proper Weight

In the U.S., being overweight is one of the most common health problems.  As few as ten extra pounds make your heart, lungs, and joints work harder than they should.  Weighing too much also greatly raises your risk of getting diabetes, cancer, and other serious diseases.

Exercise:  Find out your own Body Mass Index (BMI) by clicking here.  What did this tell you about your weight situation?

Making Healthy Food Choices

As discussed in the Food and Nutrition section, the kind of food you eat on a day-to-day basis can either help keep you in good physical shape or lead to serious health problems over time.

Getting Regular Exercise

You may have heard the expression, “use it or lose it.”  This very much applies to exercise.  “Couch potatoes”

  • lose muscle strength
  • tend to develop a pot belly
  • seriously increase their risk of heart attack and stroke.

On the other hand, people who exercise at least 20 minutes a day maintain their muscle fitness.  They also have a better chance of both feeling and looking good, and they have a much lower chance of developing a life-threatening illness.

If you have a physically demanding job, you may already be getting a good amount of exercise.  However, if you have a desk job or some other job that mainly involves sitting or standing, you will need to make a deliberate effort to get more exercise.

For example, walking to and from work instead of taking the bus may be a good option.  Whatever exercise you do should last for 20 minutes or more and be hard enough to raise your pulse rate.

Exercise:  How would you rate yourself concerning the amount of exercise you get on a regular basis?  If more seems to be needed, what kind(s) of exercise would you enjoy doing, and how could you get started?

Getting Enough Sleep

Recent studies have shown that people who do not get enough sleep don’t perform as well as fully rested people, when doing both physical and mental tasks.

You need to get eight full hours of sleep (or at least 7-1/2) to be alert and to think clearly.  The best way to do this is to go to bed early enough that you wake up naturally in the morning.  If your alarm clock always wakes you up from deep sleep, this is a sign that you are not getting to bed early enough.

Many people try to short-change their sleeping time so they can “get more done."  The truth is you can get more done (and done more quickly and successfully) if you've had enough sleep the night before.

Exercise:  About how many hours of sleep do you get on a regular basis?  If  more appears needed, how could you help make this happen?

Not Smoking

Aside from drug use and alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking (and also cigar smoking or using chewing tobacco) is just about the worst thing you can do to self-destruct from a health and length-of-life standpoint.  Consider these facts:

  • Smokers are two to four times more likely to suffer fatal heart attacks than non-smokers.

  • Life insurance companies charge much higher premiums for smokers, because of their higher chance of dying sooner than non-smokers.

  • According to a January 2000 article in the British Medical Journal, on average, every cigarette a person smokes decreases his or her life expectancy by 11 minutes.  For a pack-a-day smoker, this amounts to losing over one day of life per week.

If you do decide to stop smoking and throw away your final pack, the following good things start to happen from that point on:

  • Within 48 hours:  your nerve endings start to regroup and your ability to taste and smell improves.

  • Within 3 days:  your breathing is easier.

  • Within 2-3 months:  your circulation improves, walking becomes easier, and your lung capacity increases up to 30 percent.

  • Within 1-9 months:  sinus congestion and shortness of breath decrease.  Fine internal hairs that sweep debris from your lungs grow back.  Energy increases.

  • Within 5 years:  your chance of dying of cancer goes down by almost half, compared to a pack-a-day smoker.  Your risk of having a stroke is also reduced.

Within 15 years:  your risk of heart disease is the same as a person who has never smoked. 

The financial advantages of not smoking should also be mentioned.  Assuming you have been spending about $30 a week on cigarettes, if you stop smoking and save the money instead, this would be the same as getting a salary increase or other money bonus of over $1,500 a year!

If you really want to quit smoking--not only for a longer and healthier life but also for important financial reasons--smokefree.gov provides a lot of very useful information and recommendations on successful quitting.  Start by clicking here and then on the large pictorial banner at the top of their website home page.

Avoiding Known Hazards

For people who are outdoors a lot, overexposure to the sun can be a real problem.  Too much time in the sun without any protection can lead to several kinds of skin cancer, including the often fatal kind called melanoma, which more and more people are getting.

When you are out in the sun, you should wear a hat with a complete-circle brim (not just a baseball cap).  You should also put a good amount of sunscreen on your face, arms, and other exposed areas.  Look for a product whose label says it

  • has a  Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher
  • protects against both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays.

You should also be careful to avoid safety hazards, on the job and elsewhere.  For any work where falling objects are possible (warehousing, carpentry, construction, and so forth) you should wear steel-toed shoes, and also a hard hat whenever issued.  Masks for spray painting, waist belts for heavy lifting, and other types of safety equipment should be used wherever needed.

Needless to say, wear your seat belt at all times whenever you are in a moving vehicle, even if you are just going a few blocks.

Exercise:  Do you regularly wear a seat belt when driving, both as a driver and passenger?  Have you read newspaper reports that describe how many people lived or died in a car accident, and which of them were wearing or not wearing their seat belts?  Have you noticed any trend in this regard?

Getting Periodic Checkups

Unless you are 55 or older, you probably don't need to have a regular physical exam every year.  However, if you have not had an exam within the last two or three years, you should probably have one to make sure everything is in order.  The exam should include a

  • thorough once-over of your body

  • blood pressure check

  • blood and urine check to screen for high cholesterol, anemia, susceptibility to diabetes, and other problems.

Based on the results, the doctor may recommend more frequent monitoring in a particular area that he or she feels should be “watched.”

Just about any medical condition can be treated more effectively and more successfully if it is discovered and dealt with at an early stage.  For this reason, a basic check-up, followed by any additional monitoring that may be needed, is very important for a long and healthy life.

For Additional Information

Many of the health-related websites on the Internet should be viewed as suspect because of their close identification with a particular medical "fad" or other kind of enterprise (often commercially driven) that has not been adequately researched or tested.  In contrast, the well-known Mayo Clinic site offers accurate information and advice on common medical problems, and the non-profit website, Helpguide provides useful, well-informed recommendations on dealing with stress, sleeping difficulty, and similar issues.

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