If you ask people to explain the new health-care reform legislation, you will get several different answers. The most common answer seems to be that people are confused. Nobody seems to know how this legislation will affect them or if they are even eligible. While it’s great that the government is taking some action to promote greater health, they are missing the big picture.
If we really want to improve the health of Americans, it starts with you. Many of the conditions and diseases we spend money treating are 100-percent preventable. Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and countless others are directly linked to lifestyle. Improving your health is not complicated: It simply requires that you make a few meaningful changes to your lifestyle.
The first thing that most people need to look at is diet. The typical American diet has far too much fat, refined carbohydrates and alcohol. Most people say they know what to eat but, in my experience, they are wrong. We need to eat protein sources that are lean and low in fat. Turkey bacon is not low in fat, even if it is better than pork. Carbohydrates that come in a box are not always the best. As much as we like them, white flour and sugar are not healthy. They make your blood sugar skyrocket and have significant effects on your health over time. And finally, we should adjust our alcohol consumption. There is research that suggests small amounts of alcohol lower one’s chances for heart attacks. Unfortunately, as a society, we drink far more than this.
Next, we need to look at the role exercise plays. We know exercise improves health, but it is important to look at exactly what happens. Cardiovascular exercise is the most common. This type of exercise can include running, swimming, biking, jumping rope or anything else that raises your heart rate for an extended amount of time. The purpose of doing this is to strengthen your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Consistent cardiovascular exercise has been linked to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
While aerobic exercise is vital, resistance training is also essential to long-term health. We know that weight lifting can make us stronger and grow larger muscles, but there are other significant benefits. Our metabolism is linked to how much muscle mass we have. If you gain more muscle, your metabolism will get faster, and makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Resistance training also has hormonal benefits. As men age, they produce less testosterone; this loss is increased in sedentary individuals. Consistent weight lifting results in higher testosterone levels, and also has significant benefits such as increasing bone density and increasing insulin sensitivity.
Exercise and nutrition alone will not cure every disease, and there is definitely a role for prescription drugs to play. Unfortunately, we usually turn to drugs first and a healthy lifestyle second. Rather than worry about health-care reform and how it affects you, start with yourself. Research has shown that by following a healthy diet and including moderate exercise, you can avoid most diseases that are costing our health-care system billions of dollars every year. While this may not be an exciting solution to our health problems, it works far more often than not. n