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:
- avoidance of
- avoidance or moderation of
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
lung cancer (the risk for smokers is 10 times
greater than for nonsmokers)
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.
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
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
miscarriage, and of having a low-birth-weight baby.
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.
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
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
- alcohol related automobile citations or accidents
- concerns expressed by friends or spouse
- drinking excessively and often
- drinking to make problems go away
- loss of control
- making excuses for drinking
- medical problems such as
- 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
The diseases most frequently caused by alcohol are:
- cancer of larynx, esophagus, stomach and pancreas
cirrhosis of the liver
bleeding esophageal varices
impotence (in men)
menstrual irregularity (in women)
Alcoholics often deny they have a problem to protect
themselves from the truth about their drinking. Nearly
every treatment program for alcoholics follows these
- Complete withdrawal from alcohol (detoxification).
- Treatment of diseases associated with the
- 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
- Recovered alcoholics can become responsible social
- 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,
unexplained weight loss,
flushed skin, persistent running nose, and dazed
appearance. The continual need for money and
extraordinary time spent away from home may also be
Abuse and addiction are not just associated with illegal
"street" drugs. Legal drugs are often misused. Drugs
such as laxatives, painkillers, nasal sprays, diet
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.
DEALING WITH STRESS
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,
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
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
burn, you will gain a pound. Exercise is even more
critical to weight-maintenance (the hardest part) than
it is to
Obesity adds stress to the heart, bones, and muscles. It
also increases the chances of getting health problems
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
fiber, reduce sodium, and reduce calories and sugar.
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
- daily flossing and twice-daily brushing of the
- 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
- 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