Preventing Chronic Diseases

Blog # 144   Andrew Siegel and William Stewart

Bill Stewart, a 67 year-old friend of mine who has participated in countless full marathons and is passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, sent the following note to me that I want to disseminate because it is spot-on (it is edited to a very minimal extent):

“I got back from Boston this weekend after a very depressing week with my sister, whom I’ve always looked up to.  Just a few years ago she had language skills beyond most Americans; now she has skills at about age 5-6 level, but with significantly less recent memory than children those ages.  I toured an assisted care facility with my sister, which actually exceeded my expectations.  But this is certainly not a place I ever want to be in! 

I am now seeing most of my contemporaries having issues with chronic diseases to a greater or lesser degree, which, I believe could have been avoided or delayed to a later stage in life.  Most people work so hard and really look forward to the day they retire, but, unfortunately for most, retirement becomes one filled with chronic disease, accelerated physical decline, and endless visits to the doctor’s office, hospitalizations with surgical procedures, and gobs of drugs that may help alleviate their conditions, but often cause other conditions. 

I take the attitude that we’re given one period of up to 100 years of life on this earth, and with health it can be a joy, but without health the joy is diminished or gone.  I do believe that the majority of people, barring a particularly bad set of genes, can live an active and happy (or relatively happy) life to within a few years of their genetic clock expiring, whether it be at age 75, 80, 90 or 100 – but not in the prevailing culture of bad food and sedentary habits. 

There is a very vocal minority who are pointing the right way, such as Andy, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Oz, Pastor Rick Warren (The Daniel Plan – an interesting motivator here, maybe not for everyone), etc.  But they are going against some very powerful special interests that make lots of money from the status quo – most physicians, health insurers, big pharma, big agriculture, food processors, fast food industry.  And unfortunately, the US government, for the most part, supports and encourages this. With heavyweight lobbyists representing these industries (many of whom were formerly gov’t officials regulating these industries!), it’s an uphill battle. I think at some point government will realize that Medicare and Medicaid can’t keep expanding because it will totally break the government budgets.  For example, the government now supports and encourages biotech drugs that cost $500,000 or more a year per patient; this is simply not sustainable. But currently it’s very difficult for the government to fund, support, or even encourage studies of preventive strategies because there is not much money to be made from these (but there could be huge savings!!!).

I looked up Dr. Robert Lustig and he had a great video on his web site about high fructose corn syrup and the damage that it does to the body (Sugar, The Bitter Truth). It is a bit technical and somewhat long (about an hour, but fascinating).  And the story he gives about Coca-Cola is really amazing.  I watched the winter Olympics and, of course, Coke presented itself as synonymous with 20th century American culture (this is really nauseating!). There is a Coca-Cola Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness, which I find particularly amusing. 

To my way of thinking, early 50 to mid 60 year-olds are at an age when most people’s health can be “saved”, so to speak, by modifying their habitual exercise and diet behavior before chronic illnesses take a firm hold; I’m really at the back end when, for the most part, the chronic illnesses are in firm command and people are really resistant to changing their habits.”

So what are the key elements for avoiding chronic diseases and living a long, healthy and happy life?  The following summary is excerpted from my first book: Finding Your Own Fountain of Youth: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Health, Wellness, Fitness & Longevity:

  • Maintain an active, purposeful, and meaningful existence—for many this means continuing to work in some capacity or involvement in other endeavors that create purpose—this allows one to structure one’s time effectively and maintain a sense of community.
  • Make a long-term commitment to ample exercise and physical activity.  Stay mentally engaged and passionate about interests and hobbies such as: reading, travel, games, art, music, crafts, pets, sports, etc., etc., etc.
  • Fuel yourself with the healthiest diet possible.
  • Avoid self-abusive behavior—junk food, obesity, tobacco, excessive alcohol, excessive sun exposure, undue risks—maintain an “everything in moderation” attitude.
  • Maintain close ties with family and friends—put great effort into your marriage/primary relationship, as it is a vital contributor to aging well.
  • Have an optimistic and grateful attitude—a cheery, happy, and upbeat disposition, a sense of hope about what the future will bring, and a good sense of humor.
  • Learn to deal positively with stress.
  • Counter life’s inevitable losses, changes, and vicissitudes with adaptation.
  • Practice preventive maintenance and avail yourself of all the advances medicine and technology have to offer.
  • Care about yourself, respect yourself, invest in yourself—LIVE and LIVE well!

Andrew Siegel, M.D.     Our Greatest Wealth Is Health

Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; in press and available in e-book and paperback formats in April 2014.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food:

Available on Amazon in Kindle edition

Author of Finding Your Own Fountain of Youth: The Essential Guide For Maximizing Health, Wellness, Fitness & Longevity  (free electronic download)


Amazon page:

For more info on Dr. Siegel:

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