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While maintaining good health habits will not guarantee a longer life, it will certainly improve the quality of life. The following are a few simple factors, if practiced regularly, that help minimize the risk of illness and enrich life:
  • daily exercise
  • avoidance of smoking and drug abuse
  • avoidance or moderation of alcohol use
  • weight control
  • balanced and healthy diet
  • tooth care
  • control of high blood pressure
  • good safety practices


Exercise is a key factor in staying healthy. The question is not should you exercise, but what kind of exercise is appropriate for you? Exercise strengthens bones, heart, and lungs; tones muscles; and increases physical reserve and vitality. It also helps you sleep better, relieves depression, and prevents constipation. See exercise.

Guidelines for exercise include:
If you are just starting an exercise program and have any health concerns (such as obesity), have your doctor conduct an exercise tolerance test to help you establish limits for your exercise program.

Begin gradually (perhaps with brisk walking) and don't expect to "get into shape" overnight. Your fitness should start to improve within 3 months with consistent effort.

You should be able to carry on a conversation while you are exercising. At the same time, you typically should work hard enough to sweat during each exercise period.

In order to become fit, plan an exercise routine that will last 20 to 30 minutes at least 3 days a week. Include stretching before and after your exercise. This will help avoid injury. Remember to start slowly and listen to your body's pain messages. If it hurts, then you have probably overdone it.

While exercises such as weight lifting provide strength to the muscles, they do little for the fitness of the heart. Aerobic exercises strengthen the heart and lungs and should be part of the fitness routine. Examples of good aerobic exercises include: walking, running, jogging, swimming, cross-country skiing, rowing, rope skipping, dancing, racket sports, and cycling.

The duration of your exercise routine should be at least 20 to 30 minutes, and for more dramatic fitness results 45 to 50 minutes. In addition, remember that aerobic exercise can't be "start and stop"--it must be sustained for at least a 10- to 12-minute period.

Adjustments in exercise programs need to be made for children, pregnant women, obese adults, elderly people, disabled people, and heart-attack survivors. Programs should also be modified for high altitudes and extreme heat or cold conditions.

Use good equipment (especially good shoes) for your fitness program and do some research into a new type of activity before launching a program.

No exercise program ever goes smoothly. There may be setbacks (such as illness or injury), but these should not change your overall program. If necessary, substitute one exercise activity for another (for example, switch from running to swimming). If you do have a setback, don't start immediately at your previous level of activity. You should take about as long to get back to your previous level of activity as the time you were out of action.

Exercise can be fun even though it may not seem fun at first. Don't be afraid to vary both the duration and type of exercise activity if your present one is getting boring.


It is estimated that smoking kills over 300,000 people in the U.S. every year. Smoking is the largest preventable cause of premature death and disability in the U.S. One out of six deaths in the U.S. every year is a result of cigarette smoking.

In the U.S., about 23 billion dollars is spent in medical costs from the effects of smoking. Over 30 billion dollars are lost because of loss of working time and decreased productivity because of smoking.

The serious diseases most frequently caused by smoking are:

  • lung cancer (the risk for smokers is 10 times greater than for nonsmokers)
  • emphysema
  • chronic bronchitis
  • heart attack
  • stroke (the risk for smokers is almost 3 times greater than for nonsmokers)
  • heart pains
  • leg pains

It is never too late to quit smoking. Two years after stopping, your risk of heart attack returns to average. After 10 years, your risk for lung cancer is back to nearly normal. After 2 years, there is a decrease in lung cancer risk by about one-third.

Low-yield cigarettes are not safe and probably do not decrease your risk of serious disease. Smokeless tobacco is also a serious threat to the health of its users and is not a safe alternative to smoking. With use, the risk of cancers of the larynx, pancreas, esophagus, and other diseases goes up significantly.

Four out of five smokers started smoking before age 21--most due to peer pressure.

Smoking parents should stop if for no other reason than the health of their children. The adverse health effects of second-hand smoke are well documented, resulting in most of the states in the U.S. enacting laws limiting smoking in public places. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of fetal or infant death, miscarriage, and of having a low-birth-weight baby.

While tension and irritability are common smoking withdrawal symptoms, the health benefits begin almost immediately upon stopping. In addition to the health benefits, food will taste better, your stamina will improve, and you will avoid the cost of cigarettes. Facts do not support a direct link between weight gain and cessation of smoking.

Combine your stop-smoking program with either the beginning of or an increased exercise program. Avoid prolonged use of nicotine chewing gum--which can be just as bad for your arteries as the nicotine in cigarettes. The American Cancer Society has "stop-smoking" courses that may help you be successful in your effort to stop.

It has been estimated that there are approximately 10 million alcoholics in the U.S. Another 20 million are alcohol abusers, most of whom started to drink heavily as teenagers. About 2 out of every 3 adults use alcohol. Over half of all suicides, homicides, and accidental deaths are alcohol related. Over 10,000 young people are killed and 40,000 are injured annually in alcohol-related automobile accidents.

The annual cost of lost productivity and health expenses related to alcoholism is estimated to be well over 100 billion dollars. While it is estimated that only 1 out of 10 people (about 1.5 million Americans) get help for their alcohol problem, the cost for such help is staggering.

Alcoholism is a type of drug dependence that is both psychological and physical. Danger signs of excessive drinking include:

  • alcohol related automobile citations or accidents
  • blackouts
  • concerns expressed by friends or spouse
  • depression
  • drinking excessively and often
  • drinking to make problems go away
  • loss of control
  • making excuses for drinking
  • medical problems such as gastritis or ulcers
  • missed work days at the office
  • morning or solitary drinking
  • preoccupation with drinking

Consumption of alcohol gradually depresses brain function. Emotions, thought processes, and judgment are first to be affected by alcohol consumption. With continued drinking, motor control becomes impaired resulting in slurred speech, slower reactions, and poor balance. Both increased body fat and drinking on an empty stomach speed the rate of alcohol intoxication.

The diseases most frequently caused by alcohol are:

  • acute and chronic pancreatitis
  • cancer of larynx, esophagus, stomach and pancreas
  • cardiomyopathy
  • cirrhosis of the liver
  • bleeding esophageal varices
  • hepatitis
  • impotence (in men)
  • Mallory-Weiss tear
  • menstrual irregularity (in women)
  • sleep disorders
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Alcoholics often deny they have a problem to protect themselves from the truth about their drinking. Nearly every treatment program for alcoholics follows these steps:

  • Complete withdrawal from alcohol (detoxification).
  • Treatment of diseases associated with the alcoholism.
  • Provide counseling.
  • Encourage complete abstinence.
  • Encourage acceptance of the disease--this is the most important step to recovery.
  • Provide psychological support.
  • Give medication.
  • Assist in readjustment of priorities.
  • Provide continuing support.

Common falsehoods about drinking include:

  • Only those who lack will power become alcoholics.
  • Drinking can make you warm.
  • Alcohol is a stimulant.
  • Admitted alcoholics can't get a good job.
  • Your true personality comes out when you are drunk.
  • Recovered alcoholics can become responsible social drinkers.
  • Old people do not become alcoholics.

Avoid alcohol consumption when pregnant. Health damage to the unborn child can be significant.

Parental responsibilities include:

  • Educate your children by example and by counseling about the dangerous effects of alcohol.
  • Establish a trusting communication with your children so that sensitive issues can be discussed.
  • Don't allow your children to be guided completely by their peers. Your children need your firm and loving guidance as their parent much more than they need you as a friend.

For help, call your local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which offers a sober peer group as an effective example of how to achieve total abstinence from alcohol.

Any drug taken for purposes other than for what it was intended or in a manner or in quantities other than directed is considered drug abuse. Avoid taking drugs for any means other than what they were prescribed for.

Any loss of control over the use of a drug is considered an addiction. There are both physical and psychological characteristics associated with a drug dependency. The signs and symptoms of addiction are different for each person and type of drug but may include: insomnia, unpredictable moods, agitation, personality changes, excessive sweating, unexplained weight loss, bloodshot eyes, flushed skin, persistent running nose, and dazed appearance. The continual need for money and extraordinary time spent away from home may also be signs of drug addiction.

Abuse and addiction are not just associated with illegal "street" drugs. Legal drugs are often misused. Drugs such as laxatives, painkillers, nasal sprays, diet pills, and cough medicines are often misused resulting in serious health problems.

Elderly people have to be particularly careful about drug-related problems caused by taking more than one medication (for treatment of different diseases) at the same time. The interaction of two or more drugs when taken simultaneously can have serious health consequences. Older people on multiple medications need to be monitored and have a written drug administration schedule. When going to more than one doctor for the treatment of different problems, always inform each doctor about all the drugs you are currently taking.

Avoid drinking alcohol while on medications--this combination can be very dangerous.

Drugs that treat nervousness and tension (such as Valium) are often abused, as are painkillers (such as codeine and morphine). If you are taking a drug for more than 4 months, then you may be addicted.

Signs of drug abuse in teenagers may include: apathy, temper tantrums, missing school, sloppy dress, lack of interest in school, excessive demands for privacy, secrecy, and a change in group of friends. An adolescent in trouble with drugs needs continual parental listening, understanding, and love.

Mothers should avoid taking any drug during pregnancy--especially during the first trimester when the fetus is very sensitive to drugs in the mother's body. If you have been taking any drugs just before becoming pregnant, inform your doctor.

Stress is a normal and necessary part of life. It is often a great motivator to get things done. However, excessive stress can produce symptoms such as insomnia, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, irritability, aggression, and so on. If left unchecked, these symptoms can lead to illness and physical and emotional dysfunction.

Learn to recognize the things that cause you the most trouble. While you may not be able to avoid them, it will be reassuring to know they are the source of the stress and will help you feel more in control.

Accept the fact that stress-related discomfort is normal.

Try different methods (there is not one that works for everyone) to relieve your stress until you find something that works. However, avoid using drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) to relieve stress.

Avoid worrying about things over which you have no control. Try to keep your immediate stressful situation in perspective with your long-term goals and with the things that are most important to you.

Exercise is a very effective way of coping with stress. Exercise will help to calm you, and if you are fit, your body will be better able to cope with stress.

If your stress is due to personality conflicts with other people--especially if there is a spouse or family conflict--seek counseling for guidance and support.

For most people, weight control is a difficult task that requires continual attention over a lifetime. Every weight control program should include exercise. If you consume 3,500 calories less than you burn, you will lose a pound. Conversely, if you consume 3,500 calories more than you burn, you will gain a pound. Exercise is even more critical to weight-maintenance (the hardest part) than it is to weight reduction.

Obesity adds stress to the heart, bones, and muscles. It also increases the chances of getting health problems such as varicose veins, breast cancer, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. Contributing factors to obesity include heredity, overeating, eating too much of the wrong foods, and inactivity. Try to provide support and encouragement to people who have a weight problem. Avoid criticizing and making jokes, which can prove devastating for an overweight person (especially a young person).
As a general rule, try to reduce fat, increase fiber, reduce sodium, and reduce calories and sugar.

Good dental hygiene is essential to keeping your teeth for a lifetime. It is important for children to start young with good dental habits. Proper hygiene should include:

  • daily flossing and twice-daily brushing of the teeth
  • brushing with fluoride toothpaste
  • having regular dental checkups
  • limiting the amount of sugar intake
  • using a toothbrush with soft bristles (replace the toothbrush with a new one as soon as the bristles become bent)
  • having the dentist instruct you on proper brushing and flossing techniques
  • being aware that "tartar-controlled" toothpastes have little or no effect on tartar below the gum line and, therefore, will not provide a safeguard against gum disease



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