#116 10 Reasons Why Spicy Foods Are Good For Your Heart

August 8th, 2015 by

10 Reasons Why Spicy Foods Are Good For Your Heart

“Have some more,” Mr. Wang said as he eagerly put more food on my plate.

“No thank you,” I tried to respond in Chinese, but no words came out.  My mouth was on fire and my eyes watering.  I really wanted to be a grateful guest but the red hot chili peppers in this Sichuan Chinese dish was far spicier than I had ever experienced before in my life.

Surely, I thought, this much must put me at increased risk for ulcers and it couldn’t be healthy.  Now, 29 years later, there is compelling scientific data that we should eat spicier food.  In fact, these spices may be a key factor to great health and longevity.

In this article, I share 10 scientifically proven reasons why spicy foods are good for your heart.  If you are looking for a very quick summary of this article, here is a TV appearance I did to discuss this blog.

Do Spicy Foods Cause Ulcers?

Growing up, conventional wisdom held that spicy foods caused acid reflux and stomach ulcers.  In fact, many medical experts of the day even recommended that we eat blander foods.

No doubt, some foods like pizza, sausage, and deli meats can aggravate “ulcer-like” symptoms.  However, the active component of chili peppers, capsaicin, has been shown in many studies to prevent or reverse ulcers. Indeed, cultures or groups of people who eat the most chili peppers rarely get ulcers.

Why is the Media Now Discussing Spicy Foods?

Unless you have been on a “news fast” this past week, you have undoubtably heard many reports of the recent Harvard study on eating spicy foods.  In fact, this study was discussed in nearly every major U.S. newspaper and media outlet this past week.

There is a good reason why this study deserved all of the attention it received.  This was a mega-study.  A study so large that it included 487,375 healthy Chinese people, ages 30-79, who were followed for an average of 7.2 years.

These Harvard researchers did a good job of controlling for 20 different lifestyle factors which could have influenced the results of this study, like smoking status, vegetable intake, exercise frequency, etc. so that they really were only looking at the mortality effects of eating chili peppers.

Over the course of this 7.2 year study, 20,224 of the study participants died.  Researchers then analyzed the cause of all deaths and compared these findings to their self-reported intake of chili peppers.

10 Reasons Why Spicy Foods Are Good For Your Heart

Based on the results of this Harvard study, as well as other published studies, here are 10 compelling, and scientifically proven reasons, why spicy foods are good for your heart.

1. Lose Weight

As I have discussed in a previous blog (#60), many studies have shown that chili peppers decrease appetite and increase metabolism.  This double combination can definitely kick start any healthy weight loss effort.

2. Healthy Gut Flora

Capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers, possesses powerful antibacterial properties.  By keeping these bad bacteria away, some data suggests that capsaicin may promote a healthy gut flora. From other studies we are now learning that a healthy gut is a key factor in preventing heart disease.

3. Less Diabetes

While diabetes prevention likely goes hand-in-hand with weight loss and a healthy gut flora, studies show that chili pepper eaters have less diabetes.  While this Harvard study did not convincingly show this, the study did show a trend toward less diabetes in people eating chili peppers at least three times a week.

4. Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Effects

Countless studies have confirmed that capsaicin has very potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.  These effects assist the immune system in the balance between inflammation and infection control.

5. Better Immune System

As discussed above, capsaicin optimizes our immune system function.  Is it any wonder then that in this Harvard study, chili pepper eaters were 26% less likely to die from infections if they ate chili peppers at least three times a week.  This benefit was even greater in women where a 45% decreased risk of death from infections was seen.

6. Lower Blood Pressure

Capsaicin, through activation of the TRPV1 receptor, has significant blood pressure lowering effects.  Ideal blood pressure control, in turn, has been shown to prevent atrial fibrillation, heart attacks, kidney failure, strokes, and dementia.

7. Less Cancer

Many studies confirm the anticancer properties of capsaicin.  Indeed, in this Harvard study, researchers showed a modest 8% reduction in cancers in those people eating chili peppers on most days.  Other studies have shown that cultures who eat a lot of spices, like India, have a much lower incidence of cancer.

8. Better Lung Function

A surprising finding of this Harvard study was that even just eating chili peppers once a week decreased your risk of dying from respiratory diseases by 33%.  While researchers are still not sure of this connection, I suspect it likely has something to do with less respiratory infections.

9. Less Heart Disease

As you might expect, this Harvard study also showed much less heart disease deaths.  Indeed, eating chili peppers at least once weekly decreased your chances of dying from a heart attack by 18%.

10. Live Longer

While most people don’t eat chili peppers to live longer, this spice is clearly linked to a longer lifespan.  In this Harvard study, your risk of premature death was reduced by 14% if you ate chili peppers three times a week.  Even those who ate chili peppers once weekly saw a 10% decreased risk of premature death.

Does It Matter How Often You Eat Chili Peppers?

Do you have to eat chili peppers every day to get all of the benefits we have discussed in this article?  The simple answer is “no.”  Most of the benefit appears to be from going from no chili pepper in your diet to eating some at least once weekly.

Fresh, Dried, or Processed?

While eating dried or processed chili pepper is easiest, from this Harvard study it appears that the greatest health benefits are seen with fresh chili peppers.  For example, fresh chili peppers contain more potassium and vitamins C, A, K and B6.

A Contrarian View of This Study

Is capsaicin the “secret sauce” for good health or is there something else at play in this Harvard study?  For the contrarians out there, let me offer several other explanations for the health benefits observed with chili peppers.

First, perhaps the benefit may simply be due to a selection bias.  For example, people suffering from chronic medical conditions tend to prefer blander foods.

Second, healthier people are more likely to have the energy to cook at home with spices.  Thus, once again, it may not be the chili peppers but rather the fact that healthier people are drawn to this spice.

Third, Chinese people cooking with chili peppers are also much more likely to include other spices, like garlic, ginger, and curry, which also have similar health benefits.

Closing Thoughts

With all of the compelling scientific data I have presented in this article, you would think that I was a regular chili pepper eater.  Truth be told, I rarely eat it unless I am eating Chinese food at a friends’ house or at a restaurant.

My challenge for all of us is to try and include more spices in our cooking at home.  Not only will our food taste much better but our health may also significantly improve!

Do you regularly cook with spices?  What spices do you like to use the most?  Please leave a comment below so that our community can benefit from your experience.

#084 How to End Loneliness with These 7 Strategies

March 13th, 2015 by

How to End Loneliness with These 7 Strategies

Would you believe me if I told you that loneliness and social isolation was more dangerous to your health than smoking or even being an alcoholic?    How about twice as dangerous as being obese?

Do you ever feel alone in a room full of people you don’t know?  I know I often feel this way.

Over the last 20 years the number of people in America who said they have no one to talk to has tripled!  Is it the internet, our cell phones, or all of the demands that are placed on us that are causing us to feel more lonely and become more socially isolated?

Social Isolation

Why are we becoming more socially isolated?  Facebook was supposed to keep us in touch with friends and family, right?

This is something I see everyday in my cardiology practice.  Increasing job stress, family responsibilities, and our cell phones are making our lives more unmanageable.  The very technology that was supposed to make it easier for us to connect with others is paradoxically making us more socially isolated.

While I am fortunate to have a very close family, I must admit that with the many demands that I face it is hard for me to invest enough time in developing close friendships.  Do you have the same challenges?  Is this putting our health at risk?

Why Do Asians Live Longer?

According to the World Health Organization, 3 of the top 4 countries with the longest lifespan are all in Asia (Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong).  What is it that allows Asians to live so much longer than the U.S. and the rest of the world?

Since my immersion in the Asian culture at the age of 19 as part of my volunteer church service within the New York City Chinese immigrant community, I have been fascinated with the very close social support system of Chinese families.

Multiple generations all live under the same roof.  Each generation contributes to the other generations in the home.  Everyone is needed and everyone has an important role to play.  No one is isolated and no one is put “out to pasture.”  This cultural approach is completely opposite our very independent spirit in the U.S.

We saw this same social support system in China’s Longevity Village.  In fact, a study of China’s centenarians in Bama, County where the Longevity Village is located, showed that 74% of the centenarians lived under the same roof with 4 or 5 generations!

Could this close family support system be the secret to their longevity?  Or is it the fact that very few people live alone in Asia?

Friends and Family Are the #1 Longevity Factor

In one of the biggest studies ever done to explore the role of friends and family on longevity, Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University (BYU), published a study of 308,849 people.  In this study she found that of all the common longevity factors, such as exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, or not smoking, that being socially connected was the most important.  Indeed, her study showed that people who were socially connected lived 50% longer!

With regards to mortality, here are the key findings of this study:

1. Social isolation is more dangerous than smoking 15 cigarettes a day

2. Social isolation is more dangerous than becoming an alcoholic

3. Social isolation is twice as dangerous as obesity

As a cardiologist, these data surprised me.  Is loneliness really more dangerous than smoking? In my cardiology training at Stanford University, I was taught that heart disease and longevity had more to do with diet, lifestyle, smoking status, and genetics than not having enough friends and close family members.

If these data are really true, why is it that so little is mentioned about the important role of friends and family members on the American Heart Association’s website?  I had to find out more…

A Behind the Scene Look at the Loneliness and Longevity Study

To get a better understanding of the implications of this study, I was able to catch up this week with the lead researcher, BYU’s Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, who is currently living in the Netherlands on a sabbatical research assignment.

I asked Julianne how she even became interested in this subject.  She shared with me that she has been interested in the role of friendships and family relationships to cardiovascular health and longevity for the last 10-15 years.  She told me that she always knew there was a link but even she was surprised that relationships have twice the impact on longevity as obesity and even carry more weight than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.

Her study involved pooling all of the data from 148 previous studies on the subject to draw an even stronger statistical correlation.  To help explain the results of this study, she has published additional research showing that relationships can influence our blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels.

While having strong relationships can certainly help us to eat better, exercise more, or even go to the doctor’s office regularly, Julianne shared with me that these factors were not even included in the results of her study.  In other words, the longevity benefits of relationships go beyond just trying to live healthier to be around longer for your family and friends.

Is it Social Isolation or Perceived Loneliness that Increases Risk?

As part of my conversation with Julianne we touched on the topic of whether it is actually loneliness or just perceived loneliness that impacts our lifespan.  This topic lead nicely into her most recent research which you may have seen in the news recently.

Once again, this was another large meta-analysis study which included 70 independent studies of 3,407,134 people followed for an average of 7 years.  Here are the key findings of Julianne’s even larger study:

1. People who reported feeling lonely were 26% more likely to die

2. Socially isolated people had a 29% increased mortality

3. People who live alone were were 32% more likely to die

As you can see from this data that both living alone and the subjective feeling of loneliness were both powerful risk factors for an early death in this study.  Julianne shared with me that when both were present this was a particularly dangerous sign.

At our very core, we are programmed to be socially connected.  When we live disconnected lives it impacts our hearts and our health.  Our very survival depends on our ability to meaningfully connect with others.

How to End Loneliness with These 7 Strategies

Based on our work in China’s Longevity Village and from landmark studies, like Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad’s work discussed in this article, I now encourage my cardiac patients to spend more time with friends and family.  The healing that comes from close relationships likely offers more long-term benefits than any medications or procedures I can offer.

Social isolation and perceived loneliness, can both be difficult to overcome.  As I am, by nature, an introvert I have had these same struggles as well.  Let me share with you 7 strategies that I have found helpful.

1. Reach Out to Others

I realize that when you feel lonely the natural tendency is to expect others to reach out to you.  The important thing to remember is that studies show that 90% of people report feeling shy or lonely as well.

In reality they are hoping that you will reach out to them as they are feeling the same way.  Break the ice and be the one who reaches out first.  Be the person to talk to the person sitting next to you at the school function, church meeting, or the sporting event.

2. Focus on the Needs and Feelings of Others

Sometimes when people are feeling lonely they have too much bottled up inside of them. When they then do get the chance to talk with others they dominate the conversation.

My grandmother was this way at the end of her life when she was more socially isolated.  When I regularly reached out to her it was hard for me to share my feelings as she needed to talk.  I knew she was lonely and would let her talk. This is something that I often see with my lonely patients as well.

If we are feeling lonely inside it is critical to remember to also be interested in the needs and feelings of others when we have opportunities to connect.  If you want to end loneliness then others need to feel that you really care about them.  Give others the chance to share their feelings.

If they feel you care they will love you back.

3. Reconnect with Old Friends

It is always easier to reconnect with an old friend than to find a new friend.  With the powers of the internet, nearly every old friend can be found.

As I have reached out to old high school friends, medical school classmates, and extended family members, I am always amazed at how excited they are to be reconnected. Life is too short to live without our old friends!

I challenge you to connect with one old friend this week.

4. Volunteer

Unfortunately, only 27% of Americans take advantage of all the health benefits that come with volunteering.  Volunteers, by definition, are more socially connected in ways that really matter.  Perhaps this is why studies show that volunteers are happier, healthier, and even live 22% longer!

I have found that my volunteer opportunities keep me connected to people I would never have connected with otherwise.  Volunteering can take on many different forms.  It could be at your church or even your local hospital or elementary school.  There is so much you can contribute!

5. Get a Dog

Many studies have shown that having a pet, especially a dog or a cat, can help to prevent heart disease and increase your lifespan.  While there are many possible explanations for these benefits, one of the most important, and least understood, is the benefit of companionship that comes with an animal.

Perhaps this is why the American Heart Association recently published a position statement recommending pets, especially dogs as the data are strongest with dogs, as a way to prevent heart disease.

Believe or not, dogs will actually help you to connect with more people.  Everyone loves a friendly dog.  Dog owners also tend to congregate at parks and schools where dogs can be exercised.

6. Find People Like You

While the internet, Facebook, and Twitter can paradoxically make us feel more alone, these technologies do have the capability of helping us to identify more people like ourselves.  With a simple search you can instantly find thousands of people just like you.

Once you identify these people look for opportunities to meet in person.  If you are that person who loves to quilt or scrapbook you may be amazed to find that there just may be a group meeting in your neighborhood!

7. Don’t Forget Your Family

Of all the strategies listed, this is probably the most important. Our families are key to our happiness and our health.  This is something that they understand in Asia and many other areas of the world.

While we don’t have to live as multigenerational families under the same roof, we do need to stay in touch with our family.  I realize that sometimes it can be hard with our busy lives but from a larger perspective our lives really do depend on it!

What have you found that works to prevent feeling lonely?

#079 Can You Live 7 Years Longer by Smiling?

February 22nd, 2015 by

Can You Live 7 Years Longer by Smiling?

Would you believe me if I told you that researchers can predict exactly how long you will live based entirely on a photograph of you?  Sounds like fortune telling, right?  Interestingly, science backs up this claim and in this article we will discuss how smiling can help you to feel better today and extend your life.

Baseball Cards, Smiling, and Longevity Study

In 2009, researchers Ernest L. Abel and Michael L. Kruger from Wayne State University had an interesting idea for a study.  Could whether a professional baseball player happened to smile on their baseball card photograph in 1952 predict how long they would live?

To test this interesting question, Abel and Kruger analyzed all 230 baseball cards from 1952 where the athlete was looking at the camera.  Five “judges” were then selected to analyze each baseball player’s smile.  Each baseball card was rated based on 3 categories. No smile, partial smile, or a full smile (Duchenne smile).

In order to keep the study fair, judges were not told what this study was about.  All they knew was that they had to rate the smile of each baseball player.

Because these were all Major League Baseball players, much of their medical history like age, height, weight, career length, marital and education status was all public knowledge.  Interestingly, while the number of years they played professional baseball and if they attended college improved longevity, the most important factor was whether or not they smiled on their 1952 baseball card.

This simple act of smiling on their 1952 baseball card determined their longevity.  Here are the results:

1. No Smile: Average lifespan of 72.9 years

2. Partial Smile: Average lifespan of 75.0 years

3. Full Smile (Duchenne Smile): Average lifespan of 79.9 years

As you can see, the baseball players with a full smile or a Duchenne smile lived 7 years longer than those baseball players who refused to smile on their 1952 baseball card photo.

Can we believe the results of this baseball card study?

Certainly, it would be very easy to dismiss the results of this study as a random statistical finding.  However, the results of this study are right in line with other studies on smiling.

For example, studies have shown that whether or not you are smiling on your childhood photos determines your likelihood of having a successful marriage.  In other words, researchers concluded that if you didn’t like to smile on your childhood photographs that you were more likely to be divorced.

Other studies have shown that whether or not you are smiling on your senior yearbook photo determines marital satisfaction as well.  In addition to happiness, some researchers have concluded that smiling can make you appear more attractive and intelligent.

These are just a few of the many studies that have all shown the same thing.  Smiling in a photograph seems to predict happiness and longevity.

How do explain the results of smiling?

By this point in the article you are probably wondering, how can just the simple act of choosing whether or not to smile in a photo determine your health, happiness, and longevity?  I too, wondered the same thing.

Many scientists now believe that the simple act of smiling provides a window to our mental and emotional health.  If we are happy and healthy then we are much more likely to smile.

Can you fake a smile?

Certainly, in the baseball card study, researchers did not know whether the photographer asked the baseball players to smile or not in 1952 as this could have impacted the results.  While this may have determined whether baseball players didn’t smile or gave a partial smile it likely did not affect the results of a full smile or a Duchenne smile.

To be scored as a full smile or a Duchenne smile in this baseball card study, baseball players had to raise the corners of their mouth (contraction of the zygomatic major muscles) and show crow’s-feet wrinkles around the eyes (contraction of the orbicularous oculi muscles).  While it is certainly possible to learn how to move all of these muscles simultaneously and fake a genuine smile, for 99% of us we simply cannot fake a real smile.

Thus, if baseball players showed a Duchenne smile then we can be pretty sure that they were at least feeling happy inside at the time of their 1952 baseball card photo.

Thin Slicing

While this may seem complex to analyze whether or not someone is genuinely smiling, your subconscious brain is able to instantly make this determination of a real versus a fake smile without you even realizing it.  Indeed, studies show that your brain can make this determination within 180-430 milliseconds.

Being able to quickly “sum someone up” in a split second is also known as “Thin Slicing.”  This ability is something that has allowed the human race the ability to quickly sense danger or friendship since the dawn of time.  By smiling we send others a strong signal or “first impression” that we are happy and emotionally stable inside–someone who is trustworthy, open to friendship, and cooperation.

We naturally gravitate to and prefer to be around people that smile.  We go out of our way to help people that genuinely smile toward us.


I Didn’t Smile in My Senior Yearbook Photo

Did you smile in your high school yearbook photo?  If this thought has crossed your mind then you are not alone.  I also wondered the exact same thing.

As I am writing this article I had to open up my old senior year high school yearbook for the first time since I graduated from high school.  It was covered in dust but I found it in our basement.  I had to find out if I smiled in my senior yearbook photo.

Unfortunately, I did not smile.  In 1985 I was “too cool” to smile.  As you can see from this photo, I was not about to smile.

High school was certainly a challenging time for me and I wasn’t always happy inside.  I always felt woefully inadequate and wondered what others thought of me in high school.  This was readily apparent from this photograph.

Perhaps this is why I have not yet attended a high school reunion.  This year will be my 30 year high school reunion and I am committed to going if I am in town.

Based on this high school photo of me, researchers would predict that I would get divorced, live an unhealthy life, and die young.  Fortunately, I started smiling in all of my photographs in college.  It was in college when I finally became emotionally mature enough to be happy inside.  Perhaps this is why Jane and I are still happily married after 22 years.

Fake It Until You Make It

What should you do if you don’t feel like smiling?  The old adage, fake it until you make it may just be true in this case.

Could faking a smile, until you really feel like smiling, actually make you happier and allow you to live longer?  Would you believe it if I told you that there was actually good science to support this argument?

Indeed, there have been a number of studies that have shown that even forcing a fake smile can make us feel happy.  In probably one of the most interesting studies on this subject, researchers taped up the faces of 88 college students forcing them to smile.

Even with their cheeks taped up in a fake smile, these college kids felt 85% happier.  While I certainly do not recommend that you walk around with your cheeks taped up in a smile all day to keep you happy, there is an important lesson to be learned here.

When we smile, forced or not, neurological signals are sent to our brain stimulating the “happiness centers” of our brains.  Thus, when it comes to smiling, we really can fake it until we make it.

Take Home Message

The take home message of this study is that smiling can allow us to feel better today and just may allow us to live an extra 7 years of life.  Don’t just start smiling in your photographs to live longer but also learn to smile at everyone you see.

My challenge to you is really quite simple.  Smile at everyone you see today.  If you can make it a habit then you just might be happier and live longer!

Did you happen to smile in your high school yearbook photo???



#078 Squat Toilets, Hemorrhoid Prevention, and Longevity

February 21st, 2015 by

Squat Toilets, Hemorrhoid Prevention, and Longevity

Are you like 50% of Americans who have developed hemorrhoids by age 50?  Do you worry about your parents or grandparents falling in their homes?  Are you losing leg muscle strength as you are getting older?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then perhaps the answer just might be a squat toilet.  This article is just for you.

My First Experience with a Squat Toilet

At the age of 21 I was on a plane to Taiwan.  I had just completed 2 years of volunteer church service helping the Chinese immigrant population in New York City and I was eager to try out my new Chinese language skills and immerse myself in the culture by living in Asia for the first time.

I still remember the first time I went out with my Chinese friends in Taiwan.  We were busy enjoying the exciting night markets of Taipei, Taiwan when I suddenly needed to find a bathroom.

Perhaps it was travelers diarrhea.  Perhaps it was because I was not yet used to the food.  After finally finding a public bathroom, I was devastated to see that the only option available was a squat toilet.

How do you use this thing I thought?  There was no one else in the bathroom that I could ask.  As I was desperate I thought I would give it a try.

At first I thought “this isn’t so hard.”  Then my legs got wobbly, I lost my balance, and fell backwards.  It was gross.  Fortunately, no one saw me.

From then on I was always careful whenever I went out in public and did everything possible to avoid another encounter with a squat toilet.  I, like most Americans, lacked the lower extremity muscle strength, balance, and flexibility to use a squat toilet.

Is the key to longevity a squat toilet?

Would you believe it if I told you that 97% of the centenarians in the Bama County of China’s Guangxi Province are still able to independently use a squat toilet while in their 100s?  China’s Longevity Village is part of Bama, County in Southwest China near the Vietnam border.  Could this be the real reason for their longevity?

Depending on how long and how many times you use the bathroom, using a squat toilet could be the equivalent of doing about 10 squats each day.  This could be an incredible work out throughout the day for every day of your life.

Could this be an additional reason why obesity is rarely, if ever seen, in rural Asia where squat toilets are still common?  Could this answer why falls are rarely seen in rural China among China’s elderly?

The Dangers of Falling

Every day in my cardiology clinic I see older patients who are at risk of falling.  Many of these patients are also on blood thinners.  For anyone with aging parents or grandparents this is a real concern.

In fact, 90% of all hip fractures come from falls.  Of those who do fall and break a hip, the vast majority of them are either dead or still in a nursing home 1 year later.  This is definitely not how we want to spend our last days on Earth!

Falls are a very rare event in China’s Longevity Village.  Even the centenarians have excellent balance as they take their daily walks on the Village streets.  I suspect their great balance comes from being lean, not taking any medications, and from having excellent lower extremity strength from a lifetime of squatting.

Could falls in the elderly be just another manifestation of the American lifestyle?

Hemorrhoids Are Completely Preventable

Did you know that the word “hemorrhoid” was the number 1 searched for topic on Google in 2012?  Could this be because we are too embarrassed to bring this topic up with our doctor?

Hemorrhoids are definitely painful and embarrassing.  They are also totally unnecessary.  Once again, could hemorrhoids be yet another manifestation of our American lifestyle?  Once again, we could not find any cases of hemorrhoids in China’s Longevity Village and studies have shown that hemorrhoids are indeed rare in rural China.

What Causes Hemorrhoids?

If we know what causes hemorrhoids then we can take measures to prevent them.  According to medical studies, here are the big 4 causes of hemorrhoids.

1. Sitting and straining on the toilet

2. Not enough dietary fiber and water (constipation)

3. Not enough physical activity

4. Obesity

As you can see from the list, these are all easily preventable.  By simply tweaking our lifestyles, hemorrhoids never need to occur again.

The 3 Benefits of Using a Squat Toilet

1. We Were Not Meant to Sit

Sitting is indeed the new smoking.  While sitting is dangerous at home or at the office, could the same also be true in the bathroom?

Studies show that our body position is important when we have a bowel movement.  For example, squatting improves the anorectal angle allowing for better emptying of our colons and decreased intraabdominal pressure.  The end result of a better body angle during bowel movements is a lower risk of hemorrhoids.

2. Saves Time

Is there just not enough time in the day to get everything done that you need to get done?  Studies show that you can cut the amount of time you use the bathroom by 61% with a squat toilet.  The amount of saved time could really add up over the course of a lifetime!

3. A Daily Work-Out

Is it hard to find time to get to the gym?  Depending on how often you typically sit to use the bathroom you could potentially get your daily work-out just from using a squat toilet.

This is a great way to multitask.  You could get your work out done while using the bathroom.  This is so much healthier than reading a magazine or playing on your phone for 20 minutes while using the bathroom.

The list of benefits from doing squats as part of your daily work-out routine is endless.  In addition to strengthening your legs, it strengthens  your core muscles, improves balance, and improves flexibility.  If you suffer from knee pain it could just be because you have inadequate leg strength, balance, or flexibility.

My Confession

I need to make a confession.  Despite knowing the benefits of using a squat toilet, on our first two visits to China’s Longevity Village I did not use one.

While our room had a squat toilet I did not use it.  Instead, I used a chair with a hole cut out in the bottom and positioned it over the hole in the ground where the squat toilet was.

Interestingly, our children did not have any problems at all using a squat toilet.  Perhaps I was still too fearful from my first encounter with a squat toilet.

Action Items

1. Daily Squats

Even if you have no intention of ever using a squat toilet, doing squats daily can strengthen your legs as well as improve your balance and flexibility.  To learn how to do squats here is a great resource with an explanation and video.

Got bad knees or you are too big to do squats?  Here is a short video showing how you can still enjoy the benefits of squats even if you have bad knees or you are too big to do a traditional squat.

2. Don’t Read or Play on Your Phone While Using the Toilet

Sitting too long on the toilet can increase your risk of hemorrhoids.  If you like to read or play on your phone while using the toilet then you will probably sit longer.

While sitting in any form is not good for our health, there is an additional health concern with reading or using the phone while sitting on the toilet.  According to this BBC report, fecal material was found on 1 in 6 iPhones.  This is clearly not a healthy practice.

3. Increase Your Fiber, Water, and Physical Activity

To minimize your risk of hemorrhoids, increase your fiber, water, and physical activity.  Our bodies were designed to get more fiber, water, and physical activity than we typically get in the U.S.  This will also help to decrease the amount of time and straining required while on the toilet.

4. Convert Your Western Toilet to a Squat ToiletIMG_8894

For $25 you can easily convert your Western toilet to a squat toilet.  Basically, this is just placing a stool next to your toilet that allows you to squat.  There are a number of different manufacturers, such as Squatty Potty, and you can buy this on Amazon.

Even better would be to build your own squatting platform for free.  This is what I have done.  With some bricks we had laying around our house I was able to build this squat toilet.

If you do choose to build your own please make sure it is very stable to reduce your risk of falling.  Mine is definitely not stable at all.

Now with this unstable squat toilet I will definitely never be able to use my iPhone again while on the toilet.  Perhaps this will help me in my training to use a squat toilet before we return to China’s Longevity Village again in the fall.

With a squat toilet now you can do as they do in rural Asia and get in your daily squats without even having to schedule a time to work out.  Have you ever tried a squat toilet?  What was your experience?


If you do not typically do squats or use a squat toilet please discuss this with your doctor first before trying.  Also, depending on your level of physical conditioning, squats could result in significant injury.  If you are not used to using a squat toilet then you may also fall and get seriously injured while trying to use one.

#066 7 Ways to Extend Life and Prevent Cancer with IGF-1

January 19th, 2015 by

7 Ways to Extend Life and Prevent Cancer with IGF-1

NFL football players typically die in their 50s from heart disease or cancer.  In contrast, Laron Dwarfs from Ecuador live incredibly long lives without ever getting heart disease or cancer.  Could too much or too little IGF-1 be the reason?  In this article I will teach you how to optimize your IGF-1 levels to maintain muscle mass, extend life, and prevent cancer.

1986 Superbowl

On January 26, 1986 all of America was glued to the TV screen as they watched the Super Bowl XX match up between the Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots.  Favorite among Americans was the massive rookie defensive tackle of the Chicago Bears, William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

Perry seemed to have it all.  He was one of the biggest and fastest players to ever play the game.  He started the season at 380 pounds.  Not only was he formidable on defense but he was also a powerful secret weapon on offense as well in the role of a running back.  Perry represented the modern NFL player built much bigger and stronger than previous generations of NFL players.

In the third quarter of the Superbowl game with the ball on the 1-yard line the call was made to give the ball to “The Refrigerator” Perry.  On one of the most famous NFL plays of all time, “The Refrigerator” Perry scored the touchdown run as scene in this video of the event helping the Chicago Bears to go on to win their first Super Bowl.

What is IGF-1?

Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a hormone similar in structure to insulin.  IGF-1 is one of the most potent hormones stimulating growth.  IGF-1 levels are highest during the childhood growth periods and continue to play a role in growth and muscle development even in adults.

NFL football players and body builders likely have the highest circulating levels of natural IGF-1 due to their lifestyles.  For some NFL players they still wanted even higher levels of IGF-1 through performance enhancing drugs.  For example, IGF-1 was suddenly thrust into the spotlight during the 2013 Superbowl game when it was revealed that Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis was doping with IGF-1 from deer-antler pills.  Deer-antlers contain high levels of IGF-1 as IGF-1 is what causes the antlers to grow so fast each year in the life of a deer.

On first blush it seems like IGF-1 is something all of us want.  Who wouldn’t want to possess super human size and strength?  Is it any wonder New York Yankees baseball legend, A-Rod or Alex Rodriguez lied under oath that he did not use performance enhancing IGF-1 despite evidence to the contrary?

The Laron Dwarfs: People with Genetically Low Levels of IGF-1

At the same time “The Refrigerator” Perry was dominating the NFL, far away to the South, Dr. Guevara-Aguirre discovered the Laron Dwarfs in Ecuador in 1987.   Dr. Guevara-Aguirre was interested in these three to four foot dwarfs as legend had it that they lived very long lives free from cancer or diabetes.

At the time no one believed Dr. Dr. Guevara-Aguirre’s findings.  It was impossible that there were no reported cases of cancer or diabetes in any group of people.

Currently, there are about 300 known people in the world with the Laron-type Dwarfism.  Of these 300 people, most reside in Ecuador.  Researchers have reported that most of these dwarfs could probably live much longer if it were not for their high rates of alcoholism and accidents likely from their short stature.

The reason why Laron Dwarfs don’t develop cancer is really quite simple.  IGF-1 stimulates growth.  If growth is not stimulated then cancerous cells do not grow and multiply.  Likewise, with low levels of IGF-1 their blood glucose levels remain low even if they become obese.

Aside from their short stature, the other challenge Laron Dwarfs face is that of a decreased intelligence.  In addition to growth and muscles, IGF-1 also enhances cognitive performance.

Interestingly, if you inject IGF-1 into these Laron Dwarfs, like A-Rod, during their adolescent growth periods they will grow to a normal size.  However, if IGF-1 is given after puberty then they will remain as dwarfs.  Clearly, IGF-1 administration has to be critically timed to reverse their dwarfism.

Acromegaly and Excessive IGF-1

On the other end of the spectrum from the Laron Dwarfs is acromegaly.  Acromegaly is a condition where people continue to grow due to a pituitary gland abnormality.  As opposed to the Laron Dwarfs, these people are giants and have very high levels of IGF-1.  Unfortunately, these giants tend to die very young.

One of my favorite Hollywood movie stars growing up was André the Giant who reportedly stood at 7 feet 4 inches (224 cm) and starred in the classic movie The Princess Bride (affiliate link).  Unfortunately, André the Giant suffered from acromegaly and died at the young age of 46 due to complications from this condition.

Dog Size, IGF-1, and Longevity

Elizabeth with Andi

We love our dog Andi.  We rescued this golden lab at the age of 7.  Currently, she is 11 years old.

Even though her health is excellent, we all know that, in general, bigger dogs don’t live as long as smaller dogs.  Given how attached our children are to Andi, we know they will be devastated when this happens.

Why is this the case?  Could the same IGF-1 link hold true in dogs as well?

Recent studies in dogs have shown a similar outcome when it comes to IGF-1 levels and survival.  Larger dog breeds tend to have higher levels of IGF-1.  Consequently, they don’t live as long as the smaller breeds with lower levels of IGF-1.

Unfortunately for me (my height is 6′ 2″ or 189 cm), taller humans have also been shown to not live as long based on IGF-1 levels.  It seems that at least in some studies there is a trade off based on height versus longevity.

Centenarians, Genetics, Cognition, and IGF-1 Levels

Interestingly, studies of centenarians and their offspring have consistently shown lower levels of IGF-1 in those who live the longest.  This link is not just confined to certain ethnic groups.  As we have been very fascinated with the long-term health and longevity of people living in China’s Longevity Village, the same finding holds true with the Chinese.  Chinese living into their ninth or tenth decades of life consistently show lower levels of IGF-1.  These studies seem to suggest that at least in long lived families, there may be a genetic component to IGF-1 and longevity.

While in the extreme cases, like Laron Dwarfs, extremely low levels of IGF-1 are associated with cognitive impairment.  However, in healthy adults like the centenarians mentioned above, IGF-1 levels are not associated with cognitive performance.

7 Ways to Optimize Our IGF-1 levels?

Is there some middle ground between the muscle bound hulking NFL lineman and the diminutive Ecuadorian dwarf?  What is the goal IGF-1 level for optimal muscle strength, cognitive function, longevity, and freedom from cancer and diabetes?

From this article it could appear that there is a trade off when it comes to IGF-1.  On one end of the spectrum you have muscles and strength with high levels of IGF-1 (growth) while on the end you have longevity with freedom from cancer or diabetes with low levels of IGF-1 (repair).  Is there a way to have the best of both worlds?  Can we have both growth and repair going on simultaneously?

Like with most things, there is a healthy range.  For example, when it comes to the heart there is definitely an IGF-1 sweet spot.  Studies have shown that when IGF-1 levels are too high or too low the risk of heart disease is increased.

While in clinical studies or specialized clinics you can test your IGF-1 levels, for most people these lab tests are not available.  However, there are things we can do to keep our IGF-1 levels in the optimal range.

1. Maintain a Normal Vitamin D Level

IGF-1 and vitamin D levels often go hand in hand.  People who have low levels of vitamin D tend to have low levels of IGF-1 as well.  Vitamin D supplementation for people who are low in this hormone tends to normalize IGF-1 levels.

2. Avoid Excessive Animal Meat and Cow Milk

Excessive animal meat and dairy may raise your IGF-1 levels too high.  In contrast, vegans who eat plant-based proteins tend to have low levels of IGF-1.  Could this be one reason why vegans may have a lower risk of cancer and may also live longer?

3. Minimize Simple Carbs

A diet high in the simple carbs has also been shown to raise IGF-1 levels.  Could this explain the reason why a diet high in the simple carbs also leads to an increased risk of cancer and diabetes?

4. Avoid Isolated Soy Protein

Isolated soy protein significantly raises IGF-1 levels.  If you enjoy soy then it should be eaten how it has traditionally been eaten in Asia where they eat a non-GMO variety in the whole bean form.

5. Exercise Regularly

There have been many studies done on the effect of exercise to IGF-1 levels.  The results seem to be mixed.  My research on this topic suggests that regular moderate levels of exercise seems to optimize IGF-1 levels.

In contrast, extreme levels of exercise or excessive weight lifting can significantly raise IGF-1 levels.  Could the excessive animal meat and simple carbs in conjunction with extreme levels of exercise and weight lifting result in very high IGF-1 levels for NFL football players?

6. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Diabetes, obesity, cancer, and premature death all seem to run together.  Researchers feel that there may be a link with IGF-1.  If we want to maintain healthy levels of IGF-1 we also need to maintain a healthy weight.

7. Intermittent Fasting

Studies have shown that intermittent fasting can help to normalize levels of IGF-1.  Could this explain why intermittently fasting may increase longevity? Certainly, excessive fasting or extreme caloric restriction can be dangerous and could drive IGF-1 levels too low for optimal health.

Epilogue: “The Refrigerator” Perry Today

You may be wondering what happened to “The Refrigerator” Perry.  Unfortunately, his post-NFL football career has not turned out well.  Contrary to internet and Twitter rumors, he is still alive at age 52 but his health is extremely poor.  According to this report, he can barely walk, he weighs 450 lbs (205 kg), and he has spent considerable time in the hospital over the last few years.

What are you doing to optimize your IGF-1 levels?

#065 Is Resveratrol the Fountain of Youth?

January 18th, 2015 by

Is Resveratrol the Fountain of Youth?

At the age of 122, the French woman, Jeanne Calment was still as mentally sharp as ever.  A woman who had met Vincent Van Gogh when he still had two ears while she was a young woman in Arles, Jeanne had become an international celebrity for being the oldest documented person to have ever lived.

At the age of 90, the woman who would one day go on to be the oldest person to have ever lived according to documented records, Jeanne Calment, found herself without any direct heirs and dangerously running out of money.  In such a dire situation, a French lawyer made a deal with Jeanne to pay her the equivalent of $500 USD a month if she would sign over her home to him upon her death.

It probably seemed like a good deal for the lawyer.   The only catch was that he had to wait until she passed away.  Perhaps given her advanced age, he thought it would just be a short period before he would have the home free and clear.

As fate would have it, this woman ended up outliving the lawyer.  Not only that, the lawyer ended up paying her more than twice the value of her home.  This stroke of fate allowed Jeanne to live the rest of her life without any further money worries.

Perhaps this deal is what allowed Jeanne to support her 2.2 pounds of chocolate that she ate each week and her red wine.  When she was later asked how the lawyer must have felt about this deal, Jeanne simply replied, “it happens in life that we make bad deals.”

When asked about her secret to a long life during an interview in 1997 just before her death, she credited her longevity to red wine and chocolate, among other things.

For decades, researchers have been intrigued by the potential link between the ingredient found in both red wine and chocolate–resveratrol–and longevity.

Discovery of Resveratrol

In 1939 an obscure Japanese researcher, Michio Takaoka and his students, were doing experiments on veratrum grandiflorum, a plant found on the northern most island of Japan, Hokkaido.  By chance, they isolated resveratrol crystals and shared their findings in a Japanese medical journal unknown to the rest of the world.

His finding had faded away into obscurity until modern scientists once again discovered resveratrol, this time when red grapes made the compound when infected by a fungus.  Further research concluded that resveratrol was a protective effect of red grapes to environmental stressors like weather, bacteria, or fungus.

Now large pharmaceutical and supplement companies have jumped into the resveratrol quest.  Consequently, many studies have been published on the potential benefits of this anti-oxidant, anti-aging, and anti-cancer compound.

Could Resveratrol Explain the French Paradox?

The French Paradox has baffled scientists for generations.  How could the French eat the “wrong” foods and not exercise more than anyone else, yet consistently have the lowest rates of heart disease in the world?  Indeed, based on World Health Organization data, the risk of a heart attack in France is nearly 3 times lower than in the U.S.!

One of the possible theories for the French Paradox is that while enjoying their red wine, the French benefit from the resveratrol in the red wine which can help protect against heart disease.

Possible Health Benefits of Resveratrol

You may be wondering what the science says about resveratrol.  Can you really live to 122 on a diet that includes red wine and chocolate?

1. Resveratrol Slows the Aging Process

Amazingly, when resveratrol is given to worms, fruit flies, bees, and mice they can live up to 38% longer.  Researchers feel that the life extending benefits of resveratrol may come from activation of the SIRT1 gene.  This gene has the same effect to the body as caloric restriction in extending life.

Unfortunately, as we age our DNA slowly degrades with time.  When this happens it can lead to disease, suffering, and ultimately death.  Fortunately, the SIRT1 gene has also been shown to enhance DNA repair which can also lengthen lifespans.  Other research has shown that the life extending benefits of resveratrol may come from activation of mTOR proteins.

Regardless of which mechanism of longevity may be at play, the French remain one of the longest lived people.  In fact, the French live, on average, several years longer than we do in the U.S.

2. Resveratrol Prevents Cancer

In the laboratory setting, resveratrol has been shown to be highly effective in killing many different types of cancer cells.  However, what happens in a test tube and what happens in real life are often two different things.

In living animals and humans these cancer preventing effects of resveratrol have not been as pronounced.  Currently, there are many ongoing studies looking at the effect of resveratrol in both preventing and reversing cancer.

3. Resveratrol Prevents Heart Disease

With regards to the heart, there are many possible explanations as to why resveratrol may prevent heart disease.  In addition to being an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, resveratrol has also been shown to have many heart protective effects including the following:

-Prevention of cholesterol from being oxidized in our arteries

-Prevention of blood clots from platelet aggregation

-Improved blood flow within the heart

Whether or not it is the red wine, the French have the lowest rate of heart disease in the world where there are reliable data.  Is it the resveratrol or something else that seems to protect the French hearts?

4. Improves Cognitive Function

Jeanne Calment was mentally sharp right up until her last day of life at age 122.  With humor, when asked about her remarkable longevity, she was quoted as saying “I’ve been forgotten by God.”

Was this due to good genes or the brain protective effects of resveratrol?

In studies done with fish, resveratrol has been shown to protect against age-related cognitive decline.  Additionally, studies in mice and rats have shown that resveratrol can improve brain function by reversing traumatic brain injuryParkinson’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease.

While most of the research on resveratrol and cognitive function has occurred in animals, there are studies in humans showing that resveratrol may improve memory.  In other words, not only may resveratrol increase lifespan but many studies have shown that it can also help to protect the brain with this increased lifespan.

5. Reduces Appetite

As researchers have been busy trying to increase the lifespan of mice with resveratrol, they noticed a very strange thing.  Not only did the mice live longer but they also stayed very lean and would not always eat all of their food.

Over time, this finding has been seen in other animals as well.  Resveratrol seems to cause decreased food intake.  This decreased appetite effect of resveratrol was not anticipated at all.  This effect is now also felt due to activation of the SIRT1 gene which has the same effect on the body as caloric restriction.

Could the resveratrol in the French diet possibly explain their much lower obesity levels than what we see here in the U.S.?  Specifically, Americans are nearly three times more likely to be obese than the French.

This too is also part of the French Paradox.  How can they stay slim on the French diet which would cause many to gain weight?  Indeed, the low rates of obesity in France has prompted a number of popular books like French Women Don’t Get Fat (affiliate link).

Natural Sources of Resveratrol

By now you are probably wondering how can you naturally increase your resveratrol intake.  The primary sources of resveratrol come from red wine or red grapes as resveratrol is most highly concentrated in the skins of red grapes.  There are also other natural sources of resveratrol which include blueberries, cranberries, peanuts, and dark chocolate.  Fortunately for me, these are all some of my favorite foods.

Should I Take a Resveratrol Supplement?

If you believe the the French Paradox then it can’t be from resveratrol supplements as most French do not take these supplements.  Jeanne Calmen never took resveratrol supplements as she got all of her resveratrol naturally from her beloved red wine and chocolate.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with resveratrol supplements is that the bioavailability of resveratrol is extremely low. Even worse, what little resveratrol that it usable by the body may have detrimental effects.  For example, one recent study suggested that resveratrol appeared to negate the benefits from exercise.

My Approach to Resveratrol

At the young age of 100, Jeanne Calment was still riding her bicycle.  I, too, love riding my bicycle and do so in some form on most days year round.  While I don’t drink red wine, my favorite fruit, which I eat in large quantities, is red grapes.  Also, my only sugar vice, dark chocolate covered almonds, also has resveratrol.

While there has been a lot of hype in the media about the many anti-aging and other properties of resveratrol, there still are no convincing studies that it is beneficial yet in humans.  Thus, until further scientific data emerge I don’t think resveratrol is our fountain of youth.

Given this lack of data on resveratrol, I cannot recommend resveratrol supplements.  Likewise, if you don’t drink alcohol I cannot recommend that you start drinking red wine just for the potential health benefits of resveratrol.

However, if you love resveratrol rich foods, like me, then at least you can feel good about eating red grapes, blueberries, cranberries, peanuts, and dark chocolate.  As with Jeanne Calment, perhaps these foods will allow you to stay young, smart, and thin while protecting you from heart disease and cancer.

Do you try to get resveratrol in your diet?

#062 The Four Personality Secrets of Centenarians

January 12th, 2015 by

The Four Personality Secrets of Centenarians

Do You Have the Right Personality to Live to 100?

Only one in every 4,400 people in the US lives to be 100 years old. For many of us, thriving to 100 sounds like almost an unattainable goal, but I’m here to tell you that that’s actually not the case. In fact, there are plenty of ways you can work towards having “a healthy personality” that will help to keep your health intact well into old age.

While most people assume that living to 100 years old must be determined by “lucky” genes, there are plenty of studies that demonstrate the opposite to be true. Take the landmark study that looked at 2,872 Danish Twins born from 1870 to 1900; this study showed us that only 25% of our longevity is determined by genes.

This means that the vast majority, 75%, of our longevity is up to the lifestyle choices we make. Of course our lifestyle is affected by the personality that we choose to put forward into the world each day, because our personality establishes our priorities, stress levels, mindset, relationships, and more. So how do you develop the right personality traits to keep time on your side?

The Four Personality Secrets of Centenarians

According to research from four large centenarian studies (Georgia Centenarian Study, Jewish Centenarian Study, Tokyo Centenarian Study, Swedish Centenarian Study) there are four key personality traits that are common among those who are able to thrive until reaching the 100 year mark. These four traits are as follows:

1. Easygoing

2. Optimistic

3. Love to Laugh

4. Outgoing

These traits are believed to be partly due to genes, but also highly influenced by everyday actions and choices in life that can positively shape your personality.

Assessing Your Own Personality

How do you know if you have the right personality to thrive to the age of 100?  I have taken several online longevity tests using calculators like the ones found on this website. This is where you will find “The Living to 100 Calculator,” put together by researcher Dr. Thomas Perls. Another website I used and recommend is the “Blue Zone Longevity Calculator.”  These free online assessments will give you a rough idea of your projected longevity and where you can improve.

How Does My Personality Stack Up?

According to the results of calculations produced by these sites, I am predicted to live to 96 and 97 years old, respectively. While that’s a very admirable number, these online assessments show that I may not have the perfect personality to make it to 100.

Why am I coming up short, according to these calculations?

For starters, I am not necessarily an easygoing person and I could probably afford to laugh more often. I tend to be very “driven” to the point where it may be a fault of mine. In high school I was very easy going, loved to laugh, and did not seem to have a care in the world.

Perhaps it was the stress and focus required to get me into medical school that started to change the way I reacted to the world. And of course the incredible stress of an extremely high work load once I got into Johns Hopkins Medical School, or even my internship, residency, and fellowships at Stanford University, all likely contributed to “changing” me as well.

Knowing that the four personality traits I listed above are the ideal to strive for based on centenarian studies, I am making improvements wherever I can and taking note of what’s working.

My children are teaching me to laugh more.  For example, they love to play board games, so I am learning to slow down and play board games with them.  They also love comedies and encourage me to watch some with them.

I do have something in my favor.  Fortunately, I am an extremely optimistic person. I believe that things always seem to work out for the better over time, so I often can avoid unnecessary anxiety and worries by keeping this in mind.

While it appears otherwise, I am not naturally outgoing. If I am not expected to be “outgoing” in a social situation, my natural tendency is to be shy. What has helped me overcome this, to some degree, is that I’ve read in studies that 90% of people experience general shyness, so I feel less alone. Since 90% of us feel “shy” and hope that someone else will reach out to us, I choose to play the outgoing role and to reach out and connect with others.

Perhaps if I work on these personality traits more, I too just might live to 100?

How do these personality traits allow us to live longer?

Let’s take a closer look at how these personality traits favor living to be 100 years old:

1. Being Easygoing

Studies have shown that, not surprisingly, easygoing people have lower levels of anxiety.  As you probably know, stress and anxiety really age us. According to certain studies, people with high levels of perceived stress are actually able to age their telomeres 10 years compared to those who regularly experienced less stress. Telomeres are the caps of our DNA that protect DNA from damage, so when they become shortened due to ongoing anxiety, we are prone to chronic disease and an earlier death. Therefore being more laid back is associated with healthier DNA and a better chance of longevity.

2. Being Optimistic

Studies show that optimists live longer than pessimists. Optimists are more likely to eat right and to regularly exercise, as they believe that they will be around for longer and ought to take care of themselves. Some studies have shown that optimists live up to 8 years longer.

3. Laughing Often

According to studies, laughter has many health benefits. Research concludes that “laughter has shown physiological, psychological, social, spiritual, and quality-of-life benefits.”  Additionally, there is evidence that people who regularly laugh are at a lower risk of having a heart attack according to certain studies. Who knew that simply laughing more could solve so many problems?

4. Being Outgoing

People who are outgoing are more able to make friends and therefore to form meaningful relationships, which is very important in keeping your mood elevated and stress levels lower. One study even reported that outgoing people are happier in general than those who are more shy.

Eight Strategies to Develop the Right Personality to Thrive to 100

How can you work on adopting these personality traits more in order to live a long and healthy life?  Let me share with you the eight things I am working on right now to make it to 100.

1. The 10 Year Perspective (to be more easygoing)

I try to approach each challenge I face with a 10 year perspective in mind.  I ask myself, will this really matter 10 years from now?  If the answer is “no”, then I do my best to let it go.

2. Eliminate the Clutter (to be more easygoing)

My biggest struggle is that I take on too many things thus creating too much “clutter” in my life. The book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (affiliate link) has had a profound effect on me.  Both Jane and I have read it and it has changed our lives.

We are learning to say no to many good, but non-essential, things in life. It is important to realize that when we say “yes” to something we are really saying “no” to something else in our lives.

As we have started to do less, it has actually allowed us to be more easygoing and feel less stressed. It makes sense if you think about it.  The less things you have “on your plate” the less overwhelmed or frazzled you feel.

3. Five Minute Gratitude Journal (to maintain optimism)

Studies show that consciously practicing gratitude is linked with better well-being, less stress, and likely the ability to become more optimistic too. To make an effort to “practice” gratitude in my life more often, I have started doing a “5 Minute Gratitude Journal” on most days of the week.

As I journal what I am grateful for each day, it makes me more optimistic about what the future holds. If I’m having a bad week, practicing being grateful for what I do currently have- the things that are going right– reinforces the idea that there will better times to come.

4. Daily Physical Activity (to maintain optimism)

Moving more throughout the day often results in a better overall mood and sleeping better at night too.  I have found that if I can get in some form of exercise during the day, and then get a good night’s sleep as a consequence, the world looks a lot better.

Studies show that exercise is correlated with increased levels of happiness and reduced stress. Exercise boosts “feel good” hormones and endorphins in our brain, like serotonin and dopamine. These improve our sense of well-being, help to relax us, and give us a sense of accomplishment and personal power.

For even more tips on being more optimistic check out my article, How to Be An Optimist and Live Eight Years Longer.

 5. Spend More Time with Children (to laugh more)

As mentioned, I don’t naturally find myself laughing very much.  I used to laugh a whole lot when I was younger, but along the way I just got too serious as I became older and more focused. The best thing for me to do in order to boost my laugher is to spend more time with my children in “silly play”.

6. Watch Comedies (to laugh more)

My children love their comedies, and like most people, they laugh very often. Their favorite show right now is Studio C, which is clean, family humor. I am now learning to enjoy them with my kids.

How can you learn to laugh more? Ask yourself what kinds of situations bring laugher out in you naturally, and make an effort to do those activates more. Maybe it’s watching favorite funny movies, playing with children, or even playing with your pet that brings out the laughter in you.

7. Remember 90% of People Feel Shy Too (to be more outgoing)

Like I mentioned earlier, about 90% of people report feeling shy.  I use this to my advantage by keeping in mind that I am not alone in my natural tendency towards shyness, and that it is not “just me.”  This helps me to reach out to others in social situations because instead of feeling self-conscious, I tell myself that I am stepping up to the plate and taking the first step towards making a meaningful connection.

8. Make a New Friend Each Day (to be more outgoing)

I try to consciously make a new friend each day if I can. While this is often not possible, having this as a goal changes my outlook on life.

Every time you go somewhere, try to consider it an opportunity to meet someone new and interesting. Really listen to what others are saying, see if you find a connection to your own life, and do what you can to make a new “friend”.

Another great way to meet new friends is to volunteer. This will put you in touch with other like-minded people who share the same values as you, and can also boost your happiness according to studies.

Take a close look at your own life and personality.  What can you do to be more like the centenarians that share these four personality characteristics?  If you can find ways to be more easygoing, optimistic, laugh more, and be more outgoing then you just may be able to thrive to 100 as well.

What personalities are you working on right now?

#051 Intermittent Fasting, Weight Loss, Longevity

December 6th, 2014 by

Intermittent Fasting, Weight Loss, and Longevity

Could the secret to maintaining a normal weight, avoiding chronic medical diseases, and living a long life be as simple as intermittent fasting? Recent research suggests this is true.  Just what is intermittent fasting as is it something you should do?

Caloric Restriction and Longevity

Restricting calories while still getting the right nutrients for health has been shown to dramatically increase the lifespan of everything from the mouse to the monkey.  For example, caloric restriction, without malnutrition, in mice and rats has been shown to not only increase their lifespan by 30-40% but to also allow them to maintain a youthful appearance.

Caloric restriction appears to slow down the aging process through reduced oxidative stress while at the same time protect the heart and help to prevent cancer. Many repair mechanisms in the body are triggered during periods of reduced caloric intake.

Most of us would love to slow down the “sands of time” and maintain our youth and vitality until very late in life.  For me, I would love to be able to ski until well into my 100s.  However, like most of you, I love to eat and could never willingly practice caloric restriction.

These same life extending benefits of intermittent fasting have not yet been proven to occur in humans.  Also, caloric restriction in humans can be potentially dangerous as you have to ensure that you are getting the right nutrients for health or you could quickly undo any potential health benefits of caloric restriction.

The question naturally arises, is there a better way to achieve the same benefits of caloric restriction without all of the “pain” and potential risks? Fortunately, recent data suggest that intermittent fasting may offer the same benefits as caloric restriction.

Intermittent Fasting

Many different forms of intermittent fasting have been proposed and studied over the years.  These have ranged from reducing calories two days each week, popularized in the Fast Diet, to going without food for 12 to 24 hours.

Many different religions have also promoted fasting for spiritual reasons.  Christians, Jews, and Muslims have practiced intermittent fasting for millennia to gain greater spiritual awareness.

For me, growing up in a religious home I was taught from a young age to fast for 24 hours once each month as a means to gain greater spiritual awareness.  Unfortunately, the hunger pain of fasting for 24 hours was usually too intense for me to obtain much spiritual benefit.

Fortunately, recent data has suggested that fasting for shorting periods of time, such as even just 12 hours, could offer the same health benefits as a 24 hour fast.  A twelve hour fast is something that is relatively easy for most people to do and something you may already be doing without realizing it.

As part of my health turn around several years ago, I started intermittent fasting for 12 hours on most days.  This was not something that I specifically set out to do.

Rather, in efforts to lose weight, I told myself that I had to stop eating by 7 pm each night.  By shutting down the kitchen for me at 7 pm, I naturally fasted for about 12 hours each day.  This is now something that I recommend for my patients who are trying to lose weight and live a long and healthy life.

Intermittent Fasting in China’s Longevity Village

Over the last several years, my wife and I have led a research team studying the centenarians in China’s Longevity Village located in Southwest China near the Vietnam border.  Remarkably, this group of people have been able to avoid the chronic medical conditions that plague us in Western countries.  It was common in this rural Chinese village to see people still working full-time in the fields until well into their 80s, 90s, or even 100s free of disease and the need to take medications.

Of the many principles we learned from these people, which will be described in an upcoming book (here is a link to watch our book trailer), one important factor is that they practiced intermittent fasting every day of their lives.  These centenarians all ate an early and light dinner and then went 12+ hours before their next meal.  This was part of their culture and tradition.

Seven Reasons to Become an Intermittent Faster

1. Weight Loss

There have now been several well designed studies demonstrating that intermittent fasting can be a very effective weight loss strategy.  For example, in this study, women randomized to “relative” intermittent fasting two days a week as they were still permitted to eat on these “fast days,” were still able to lose just as much weight as those who cut their caloric intake every day.

From research performed at my hospital in 448 patients, we found that people who practiced intermittent fasting weighed much less than those who do not.  Even more interesting is that these intermittent fasters were not even trying to lose weight!

Personally, reducing calories for just two days a week sounds a lot better, and possibly even more effective, than trying to cut calories every day.  I suspect that the reason for this is that if you reduce calories every day your metabolism slows down so it is hard to gain any ground.  In contrast, with intermittent fasting you can keep your metabolism high while shedding the pounds.

2. Improved Brain Function

When we go without food for as little as 12 hours our body runs out of stored glucose to burn and starts burning fat.  This fat burning process is called ketosis.

By reducing our dependence on glucose for fuel we can protect our brains from the damaging effects of sugar.  Indeed, intermittent fasting has been shown to improve cognitive function and protect against age related degeneration of the neurons in our brains.  Other studies have shown that intermittent fasting boosts brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which allows us to create new brain connections, repair failing brain cells, and protect healthy brain cells from damage.

Perhaps this is why religious people for millennia have found spiritual enlightenment with intermittent fasting?

3. Prevent or Reverse Cancer

Intermittent fasting is well known to reduce the tumor inducing insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).  IGF-1 not only increases the risk of cancer but also allows children to grow big and adults to develop increased muscle mass.

Lower levels of IGF-1, from intermittent fasting, have been shown to prevent or even reverse cancer.  A study published this year showed that a drug which blocks IGF-1 can suppress cancer.

Interestingly, there is a rare genetic condition called Laron Syndrome.  People with Laron Syndrome cannot make IGF-1.  As a result, they tend to be dwarfs but yet live exceptionally long lives free of cancer.  Amazingly, if you give Laron Syndrome people IGF-1 during puberty they will grow to a normal height but yet will still be protected against cancer.

There may be other factors also at play which prevent against cancer with intermittent fasting.  One study even reported that intermittent fasting may be as effective as chemotherapy in fighting cancer.  Please note that I am not recommending intermittent fasting as a treatment for cancer.  If you are battling cancer right now or are just interested in trying intermittent fasting, be sure to talk with your physician first before considering intermittent fasting.

4. Prevent Diabetes

The most commonly reported benefit of intermittent fasting in the medical literature is the prevention or reversal of diabetes.  As mentioned above, going without food for 12 or more hours puts our bodies in a ketotic state.  During this period of ketosis, abnormalities in our glucose/insulin metabolism (insulin resistance) can be corrected so that when we resume eating again our body’s will respond appropriately to glucose and insulin.

An interesting study was published on the effect of Ramadan in people with diabetes.  During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day.  An added benefit is that for many Muslims, during the month of Ramadan their diabetes may even go into remission.

5. Prevent Heart Disease

Dr. Ben Horne from my hospital has led a number of research studies looking at the role of intermittent fasting to prevent or reverse heart disease.  His studies have uniformly shown that plaque build up, or coronary artery disease, is less common in intermittent fasters.

In listening to my colleague, there are many potential reasons why intermittent fasting may protect the heart.  Foremost is the effect of intermittent fasting on protecting against diabetes and elevated triglycerides.  However, the most recent research from Ben suggests that other factors might also be involved like the reduction of TMAO which has been associated with coronary artery disease.

6. Restore a Healthy Gut Flora

Increasingly more research is emerging about the importance of maintaining a healthy gut flora and preventing leaky gut syndrome in disease prevention.  Intermittent fasting has been shown to promote a healthy gut flora and may be one additional reason why intermittent fasters enjoy better health.

7. Live a Long and Healthy Life

Many studies in animals show that intermittent fasting may confer the same life preserving effects as caloric restriction.  In addition to the above mentioned mechanisms, it is possible that one additional reason why intermittent fasting may allow for longevity is that intermittent fasting helps to put our bodies into the proper circadian rhythm.

This is certainly one factor we observed during our time in China’s Longevity Village.  These centenarians all had a healthy sleep-wake and feeding natural rhythm.  There is a natural rhythm to life that we need to honor to achieve health and longevity.

Do you intermittently fast?  Intermittent fasting may be as easy as just eliminated that before bed snack.


#027 Do You Have Any of These 12 Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms?

August 11th, 2014 by

Do you have any of these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

You probably have no idea that you are currently suffering from magnesium deficiency. Indeed, studies show that up to 89% of Americans are magnesium deficient.  Read on to see if you have any of these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms.

Jill’s Experience

Jill was a 45-year-old woman suffering from a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation. It made no sense why someone so young should develop this heart condition as she didn’t have any of the usual atrial fibrillation risk factors.

The only tip-off as to the cause of her atrial fibrillation was that she was taking Prilosec for acid reflux, Lasix occasionally for leg swelling, and she was eating the “Standard American Diet.” Even though her magnesium levels came back normal on her blood test, I suspected a magnesium deficiency as the cause of her heart problem.

Interestingly, once I convinced her to replace all added sugars and processed foods with real foods which included a massive salad every day, she immediately lost 20 pounds without even trying. In no time at all her acid reflux was gone and she was off the Prilosec. Also, with no added sugars or processed foods, her legs no longer swelled so there was no further need of diuretics.

Best of all, she felt better than she had ever felt and her atrial fibrillation went away. As she made many lifestyle changes, it was impossible to know what exactly drove her atrial fibrillation into remission.

However, in my mind, I’m sure replacing her magnesium stores played a role. Continue reading to figure out how she boosted her magnesium stores.

Can you test for magnesium deficiency?

While you can test for magnesium deficiency, you probably don’t want the test your doctor orders. The reason for this is because the standard magnesium test only measures the magnesium in your blood.

As 99% of your magnesium is not freely floating around in your blood but rather is inside of your cells and bones, you need a better test for magnesium deficiency. Of the various ways to test for magnesium deficiency, probably the best is the RBC magnesium test. The RBC magnesium test measures the amount of magnesium inside of your red blood cells.

Who is at risk for magnesium deficiency?

Many things contribute to magnesium deficiency. For example, if you are under a lot of stress, you likely are not absorbing much magnesium from your food.  Those who love drinking filtered or bottled water also aren’t getting much magnesium. And processed foods are notorious for being completely absent of magnesium.

Other conditions contributing to magnesium deficiency include being overweight, diabetic, or over age 60. Likewise, many prescription medications like diuretics or acid-blocking medications are also keeping your magnesium levels dangerously low.

Do you have any of these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

1. Weight Gain/Diabetes

When you don’t get enough magnesium in your food and water, it can cause glucose and insulin levels to rise.  When insulin levels are high, you may suffer from food cravings.  Unfortunately, these food cravings are generally for sugar or processed carbohydrates which lead to further weight gain.

2. Fatigue and Muscle Weakness

Magnesium is a critical component of energy production in the body.  In fact, the body’s energy molecule, ATP, is created through magnesium dependent chemical reactions.

If you are tired all the time, you are probably magnesium deficient.  Likewise, if your muscles are weak, you may also not be getting enough magnesium.

3. Anxiety

People under high levels of mental or physical stress, poorly absorb magnesium from the gastrointestinal tract. Contributing to a downward spiral, magnesium deficiency is a significant cause of anxiety.  Fortunately, studies show that restoring the magnesium may help in the treatment of anxiety.

4. Insomnia

Having enough magnesium balances out your stress hormones.  Magnesium also helps the body maintain sufficient melatonin and other sleep hormones.  Indeed, magnesium supplementation has been shown to help with sleep.

5. Depression

Magnesium deficiency and depression go hand in hand.  Low magnesium stores lead to depression and people suffering from depression are more likely to eat a diet low in magnesium.

6. Dental Cavities or Osteoporosis

Dental cavities and osteoporosis are two more signs of magnesium deficiency.  Magnesium affects vitamin D metabolism and osteocalcin which play a vital role in bone turnover and formation.

Ironically, if you are taking calcium supplements for osteoporosis, you may be making matters worse. Calcium supplementation can throw off your calcium/magnesium balance.

7. Constipation

If you suffer from constipation you probably are magnesium deficient.  Magnesium in any form is an excellent laxative.

8. Muscle Cramps or Migraine Headaches

Do you suffer from leg cramps, eye twitches, or muscle spasms?  Do you get frequent headaches? These may all be magnesium deficiency symptoms.

9. Inflammation, Arthritis, or Autoimmune Diseases

If you suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis or autoimmune diseases, you may be magnesium deficient.  Studies have linked magnesium deficiency to arthritis and elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) blood tests.

10. Palpitations, Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, or Cardiac Arrest

Most forms of heart disease are linked to magnesium deficiency.  This mineral is critical to optimal cardiac function.

11. Thyroid Problems

Thyroid problems are widespread in the U.S.  Research suggests that many thyroid issues may be due to magnesium deficiency.

12. Cancer

Cancer may be a wake-up call that magnesium levels are low. Magnesium is a critical nutrient for many DNA repair mechanisms.   As new cancer cells are created every day in your body, you need your DNA repair mechanism functioning optimally.

Magnesium in Our Water

Our ancestors used to get large amounts of magnesium just from their drinking water.  Mountain spring water is naturally high in magnesium.  Unfortunately, many municipalities remove magnesium as part of their water treatment process.

If you want to see how much magnesium is in your drinking water, click here.  In general, the “harder” your water, the more magnesium you are getting.

Interestingly, drinking hard water may lower your risk of heart disease.  If you happen to live in a city with naturally hard water, you can get up to 30% of the magnesium you need each day from water.

Unfortunately, water softeners, water filters, reverse osmosis devices, and bottled water are generally all depleted of magnesium.  If you drink any of these magnesium depleted water types, you have to get 100% of your magnesium from food.

Magnesium in Our Food

Once upon a time, our soil contained much more magnesium.  Unfortunately, modern agriculture has stripped this essential mineral from the ground.  Processed foods are even worse when it comes to magnesium content.

Fortunately, organically grown produce has been shown to have up to 29% more magnesium.  To get enough magnesium in your diet, make sure you eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, especially spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes every day.  To see a breakdown of which foods contain the most magnesium click here.

Can you get too much magnesium?

In general, it is very tough to get too much magnesium from your food and water unless you have kidney disease.  Certainly, it is possible to get too much magnesium if you are taking supplements.

How much magnesium do you need each day?

The recommended daily amount of magnesium varies depending on your gender and age. Assuming there are no problems with magnesium absorption, you need about 400 mg of magnesium each day. If you can get at least 400 mg of magnesium daily from your water and food, you can start to enjoy the health benefits of magnesium.

Magnesium in China’s Longevity Village

As you know, we have been studying the residents of China’s Longevity Village for many years.  We have found that these people do not suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

The mountain spring water they drink is extremely hard and packed full of essential minerals.  Researchers suggest that these people get up to 50% of their magnesium just from the water.

Also, modern agriculture has yet to put a stake in the ground in this rural area of China.  Thus, the soil is extremely high in magnesium and other minerals.

Their diet, which is very high in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans, only further augments the magnesium they are getting every day.  We suspect that the magnesium in their food and water may be a major reason why heart disease is very uncommon, and people live to old ages free of chronic medical conditions.

To learn more about why China’s Longevity Village has the highest known concentration of centenarians in the world, please be sure to pick up a copy of our new book, The Longevity Plan.

How can you correct magnesium deficiency?

Let me give you five simple steps to correct magnesium deficiency.

1. Drink hard or mineral water.

2. Eat a heaping salad with spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes daily. 

3. Embrace the stress in your life.

4. Talk with your doctor about magnesium supplements.

5. Talk with your doctor about medications that may be contributing to your magnesium deficiency like diuretics, acid reducing medications, or calcium supplements.

Practical Tips

As 89% of Americans are magnesium deficient, there is a high likelihood that you may be one of them. Fortunately, magnesium deficiency is easy to correct.

I know I used to be one of these people. Before my health transformation, I required Prilosec daily for acid reflux, ate the Standard American Diet, and was always stressed. These three things alone probably put me also into a state of magnesium deficiency.

Now, in addition to eating a diet very high in magnesium, I have found that taking a magnesium supplement before bed helps me to sleep. Indeed, medical studies show that magnesium supplementation is an effective treatment for insomnia.

If you suspect you may have a magnesium deficiency as well, correct anything that can be fixed to boost your magnesium stores. Also, speak with your physician about whether a magnesium supplement might be right for you.

If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter and podcast. Also, to learn the secret to fantastic health at any age, please be sure to read our new book, The Longevity Plan.

#017 The 10 Best Excuses Not to Exercise

July 7th, 2014 by

We all recently saw the headlines, too much sitting increases our risk of cancer by up to 66%! Sitting really is the new smoking. If you figure that sitting to watch TV for one hour shortens your life by 22 minutes and smoking one cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life then sitting down to watch that one hour TV show tonight is the equivalence of smoking 2 cigarettes.

We all know we need to get moving more. Not only do we need to exercise each day but we also need to keep moving all day long. Sitting on our butts the entire day after a grueling one hour work out in the gym will undo any benefit we may have achieved in the gym. Our bodies were designed to move!

We all need to get moving. Based on objective pedometer data, less than 1 in 20 American adults actually moves enough during the day.

Every day I encourage my patients to get moving. Often when I make these suggestions, they have excuses. Let’s face it, we all have excuses why we would rather not move.

I thought that in this article I would compile the top 10 excuses I hear every day why people can’t get active. I know most of them not just because I’ve heard them from my patients, but because I used them myself. Here are some of the top excuses my patients offer when I encourage them to be physically active on a daily basis:

Excuse #1: “I don’t have time to exercise”

Fact: Physical activity creates time.

Being physically active will not only add years to your life, but will make the years you have vastly more productive. Exercise promotes energy, alertness, and concentration, increasing the productivity and quality of the time you spend at work and with your loved ones. A recent study in a prestigious medical journal found that if people could be physically active for as little as 15 minutes per day, that would improve their longevity by 3 years. That works out to be an extra 19 hours of life for every hour of physical activity.

Even if you are not concerned with extra time later, how can you squeeze it in now? I get it. I am a busy cardiologist, serve as in coming president of a large international medical society, have church and community responsibilities, a family with three small children, and I am writing a book with my wife, Jane.

I can only find time to exercise on my off days. What about the other days? As I have analyzed my time, I find that I spend two to three hours each day on a computer. With my treadmill desks and my bike desk I can now convert this “computer time” to “exercise time”.

At my home we have an old treadmill that we purchased shortly after Jane and I were married 20+ years ago. It was a treadmill that was gathering dust and the incline button did not even work. With some old furniture we were not using, an old nightstand on top of an end table, we now had a perfect treadmill desk. The cost? Free. I have included a photo of my “poor man’s” treadmill desk at the end of this article.

At the hospital it was a bit more challenging. I made a strong case and even offered to pay for a treadmill desk. Fortunately my employer, Intermountain Heathcare, agreed to buy the entire treadmill desk for me. If your employer is not in a position to help you with a treadmill desk, could you use a “box” marked for the recycle bin as your new standing desk? That is what I did prior to my treadmill desk. Studies show that even just standing while working can burn an extra 50 calories an hour and strengthen your leg muscles over the course of the day!

To help mix things up at home, I took an old mountain bike that I was no longer using and with a bike trainer and some bricks, wood, and barrels we had in our basement was able to build a bike desk. Cost? Free. I have included a photo of my “poor man’s” bicycle desk as well at the end of this article.

What if you don’t spend part of your day on the computer? Two of my patients, took their Lazy boy chairs out of their front room and replaced them with a treadmill and stationary bike. Now, when they “sit down” to watch TV or a movie at night they now exercise together instead. Is it any wonder why together they were able to lose close to 100 pounds and put their heart disease into remission?

Excuse #2: “My knees or my (fill in the blank) hurt too much”

Fact: The right physical activity is physical therapy.

If your body is injured, it will hurt more if you don’t use those muscles, tendons and joints. There is something every one of us can do to stay active throughout the day. Be creative! If your knees hurt, try swimming, water aerobics, riding a bike or cross country skiing. The right physical activity will strengthen whatever ails you and help you heal faster.

This is exactly what I was doing before I made drastic changes in my own life. Little by little I was withdrawing from all physical activity because it hurt. Somehow I thought that if I just rested my (fill in the blank) that I would start feeling better.

I sat all day for my surgeries. This only made things worse for me. Paradoxically, by standing to do my surgeries all day long, along with other changes, allowed my joints and back to heal.

Find something you can do, cross train, do physical therapy, something until your injury resolves. Many of my patients with severe joint problems and obesity have found swimming, water aerobics or even walking in a pool against the current to be very therapeutic. Do something. Your life depends on it!

Excuse #3: “I can’t afford to exercise”

Fact: Physical activity can be free or even save you money.

You do not have to pay for a gym membership or buy any equipment to begin being physically active. There are many things you can do for free. It does not cost anything to go for a nice walk. It may even be healthier to be physically active outside. All you need is a good pair of shoes to start today.

Be creative. You may even be able to save money by exercising. Can you bike to work? Many of my patients bike to work from April through October. Depending on your gas mileage, most of my patients save over $2,000 a year. What if you could eliminate one car in your household? Better yet, biking to work could give you 60 minutes of exercise time while only “costing” you 20 more minutes than what you would have spent driving your car. Imagine that, a 60-minute work out with only a 20 minute time investment!

Excuse #4: “I don’t have a babysitter”

Fact: Physical activity is vital for children too.

We have three young kids so we understand it can be a challenge to find any/enough time for yourself. Try taking turns with someone else, watching the kids while the other engages in physical activity. Better yet, try getting your kids involved. It will help them build healthy habits and it can be fun. If they are really young, push them in a jogger stroller or pull them behind your bike. Just last night we biked as a family to Grandma’s House. Go for a walk or a hike together as a family. I ski with my kids every week during the winter and spring. Plan physically active family vacations.

Excuse #5: “I am too tired to exercise”

Fact: Physical activity will give you more energy.

Do you feel too tired after a long day at work to be physically active? Do you just want to relax? It can be difficult to get off the couch when you are feeling drained, but within a short time, you will feel more energized and alive physically, emotionally, and mentally. Studies show that the best energy “pill” we have is to be physically active all day long.

Put your work out clothes and exercise gear out ahead of time. Schedule a time to exercise with a friend. Not wanting to have to put your clothes or exercise gear away for nothing or let your friend down, you will be energized in the end.

Excuse #6: “I am not losing any weight”

Fact: Physical activity will tip the scale in your favor.

Regular physical activity will increase your metabolism so you will burn more calories even while at rest. Most people naturally start to make healthier food choices once they begin exercising.

Unfortunately, others, like me in the past, believe they can eat anything they crave as long as they burn off the calories. The trouble is that exercise rarely works alone. Unfortunately, exercise increases your appetite. An energy drink and a big unhealthy meal following your workout will completely undo any benefit you may have achieved. You also cannot look at exercising as “punishment” for unhealthy eating. You have to eat right and move your body. The two work together.

While physical activity decreases most people’s desire to eat junk, in some people physical activity can trigger the desire to eat the junk. Perhaps this was due to years of conditioning from playing little league sports where we routinely reward our children with donuts and fruit juice following their workouts. Remember, that sports drink and what ever other junk you go for after your work out will undo any benefit you may have achieved. Physical activity is not a free ticket to eat junk.

Staying active may be enough to maintain a healthy weight when you are younger, but as you grow older, you may find it increasingly difficult to lose weight. It may take more time for all the benefits of your new routine to develop. Be patient and think of physical activity as a lifelong plan.

Excuse #7: “I don’t want anyone to see me”

Fact: Physical activity will enhance your self-esteem.

Do you feel intimidated to go to a gym or exercise in your neighborhood? If you worry about not having the “right” clothes or the “right” body to fit into the gym culture or be out in your neighborhood, please consider that this is the time to honor and take care of yourself, rather than being held back by fears of what others may or may not think. Also, you don’t need to box yourself into going to a gym if it doesn’t work for you.

There are plenty of activities you can choose in lots of different locations. Be creative and be willing to experiment. You deserve to feel great and exercising is one of the best ways to feel more comfortable and confident about your body.

Excuse #8: “I just can’t do what I used to do”

Fact: You can be physically fit at any age.

If you have never been active, you now have a chance to get in the best shape of your life. You may not be as fast or as flexible as you once were. It is natural for our bodies to change over time. You simply need to redefine what it means to be physically fit at each stage of your life and go for it!

My patient, Mary, could barely even walk without becoming short of breath. She did not let this stop her. With encouragement and tracking her daily results, she was able to build up to seven miles a day within 3 months! It is never too late to change!

Excuse #9: “Exercise is Too Boring”

Fact: There has to be something you enjoy doing.

I think the problem here is that most people equate exercise to going to the gym. I get it. If exercise meant that I had to go to the gym I would hate it as well. I hate the gym and have not been to a gym in years. For me, I have to be outside or in the mountains for physical activity to be fun.

When my patients ask me what type of exercise should they do I always answer, do something you enjoy. If you enjoy it you will stick to it. There has to be something you enjoy. Do something every day.

Do you like dancing? Go dancing.

Do you like golf? Then golf and carry your own clubs. Stay away from the cart at all costs.

Do you like gardening? Then please garden as this is an incredibly beneficial activity with many health benefits.

Excuse #10: “I am afraid to exercise”

Fact: Except in rare cases, being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your body.

When I encourage patients to be more physically active, I often hear the excuse that they are afraid they might hurt their heart or even die. I am saddened by these fears they share with me nearly every day that I am in the clinic.

If you have experienced any of the following symptoms, please talk to your physician before becoming physically active again: extended period without physical activity, pre-existing cardiac condition, shortness of breath or chest discomfort. Except in very rare cases, being physically active is one of the very best things you can do for your heart.

Amazingly, study after study shows that for patients surviving a heart attack or even living with heart failure, one of the best things they can do to improve their health, wellness, and longevity is to be very physically active. Just days after a heart attack, we get our patients into an exercise program. Try to be honest with yourself: your excuses may be unnecessarily limiting your life.

These excuses are common. Odds are you’ll see yourself somewhere in this list. Even my wife, Jane, and I have used some of these excuses from time to time. The bottom line is that despite whatever limitations you may be facing, there’s always something you can do. Be creative and remain open. Studies show that every effort you make will increase rather than decrease your capabilities over time.

What do you think? What do you do to stay active? Please let me know.  You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Treadmill         Bicycle

#012 Lower Your Blood Pressure with These Eight Steps

June 19th, 2014 by

Did you know that half of all American adults have a blood pressure above what the American Heart Association recommends?  Of the 70% of Americans on prescription medications, a large percentage of these take medications for high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of atrial fibrillation, stroke, and coronary heart disease.  If we are going to reverse or prevent those conditions, we need to get our blood pressure under control.

For many of my patients, these medications often leave them feeling tired, groggy, or lightheaded.  Some even report weight gain with these medications.  Do so many Americans really need to take all of these high blood pressure medications?  Is there another way?

Welcome to the foods that lower blood pressure.  These are the natural ways to lower blood pressure.

My Experience with High Blood Pressure

The first time I saw a high blood pressure reading was at about age 30.  I had a routine check up at the doctor’s office and they told me my blood pressure was 150/100 mmHg.  At the time I thought I was just “stressed” and did not pay it much attention.

For years, even as a physician I just pushed it to the back of my mind.  I was young and healthy.  Why should I worry about my blood pressure?  I couldn’t possibly have high blood pressure.

Of course, as a physician, I knew all of the long-term complications of high blood pressure.  I knew that high blood pressure can lead to heart failure, heart attacks, arrhythmias, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, and other problems.  Somehow, this all seemed “academic” or something that did not apply to me.

By age 40 my blood pressure consistently ranged anywhere from 135-150/85-90 mmHg.  Once I hit my 40s I knew I could no longer ignore it.  I decided to try a medication.

As I had Cozaar samples (losartan) at my medical practice, I decided to give this a try.  I put myself on 50 mg a day of Cozaar and it brought my blood pressure down by about 10 mmHg.

Fortunately, I did not have too many noticeable side effects.  I was a bit fatigued from the medication.  The hardest part was remembering to take it every day.

At the time, it never crossed my mind if there was another way.  Like most of my patients at the time, I also took my daily medications.

By my mid-40s, my health had hit rock bottom.  I was on 5 medications and felt horrible.  Not only did I have high blood pressure but I also was overweight, had high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, esophageal problems, and an autoimmune disease.

After learning of a small remote mountainous village in Southwest China where people live very long lives free of medical problems, medications, and surgeries, I knew this was a place we had to visit.  We had to learn their secrets to optimal health.  We spent several years studying the villagers and learning from them.

After completely changing my diet and lifestyle, the weight naturally dropped off and my blood pressure came way down.  Today, my blood pressure averages 110/70 mmHg.  I am also off of all medications.  I feel better now than I have ever felt.

Most of my patients who follow this same lifestyle can also drop their blood pressure 20-40 mmHg and get off of their high blood pressure medications.  This is far more than what most doctors think is even possible from making lifestyle changes.  It is not easy, but you will feel so much better if you can faithfully follow the 8 steps below and get off your medications!

A word of caution.  These eight steps will drop your blood pressure very fast and very significantly.  Please work very closely with your physician in lifestyle changes to treat high blood pressure and never stop any prescribed medications without first discussing it with your physician.

Eight Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

1. Eat Less Sodium

When physicians talk to patients about lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure, this is probably the number one piece of advice we give.  Unfortunately, this is often the only advice patients receive about how to lower their blood pressure naturally.

There is some controversy, even with physician organizations, on how low we should go.  The most aggressive recommendations are from the American Heart Association who recommend keeping sodium (salt) below 1,500 mg per day.  Some studies indicate potential harm with this ultra low sodium diet.

I now recommend eating approximately 2,300 mg of sodium each day for my patients.  Considering that the average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium each day, this will require some significant sodium reduction.

When I discuss this with my patients they generally tell me, “I never salt my food”.  While that may be true, that is not where we are getting our salt overload.  For the typical American, 80% of their daily salt intake comes from processed foods.

If you are going to get to 2,300 mg/day of sodium you have no choice but to minimize processed foods and be very careful when eating out.  You have to eat real food to reach this goal.

2. Stay Physically Active

Did you know that exercising daily can lower your blood pressure?  Just as important as exercising daily is to keep moving throughout the day.  For my patients, I recommend 30 minutes daily of at least moderate intensity exercise AND 10,000 steps per day as recorded by a pedometer.

Studies show that even if we faithfully go to the gym each day, if we sit the rest of the day we negate the beneficial effects.  We need to find ways to keep moving throughout the day.

Too often we are confined to “desk sentences”.  This is not real living.  Our bodies were genetically designed to move. The old adage is true.  Use it or lose it.

3. Get Plenty of Potassium and Magnesium in Your Diet

A diet high in potassium and magnesium has been shown to also lower blood pressure.  You don’t typically find these important electrolytes in processed foods or sports drinks.  Rather, these electrolytes are found in certain fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.  These are the foods that lower blood pressure. Once again, to lower your blood pressure you need to eat real food!

4. Eat Animal Meat Sparingly

While I am not advocating a vegetarian diet, I am suggesting that animal meats, especially processed and red meats, may raise our blood pressure.  The processed meats, like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and deli meats, can be especially detrimental to our health and blood pressure.

For my patients, I recommend that animal meat should be a special treat eaten one or two times a week rather than something that is eaten several times a day.  For those who do enjoy animal meats, I recommend lean and organic cuts.

Fish, on the other hand, may lower blood pressure and has many other beneficial effects.  The key to selecting fish is to find a fish low in mercury and other contaminants.  My favorite fish for nutrition is Wild Alaskan Salmon.  While this can be quite pricy, places like Costco offer very affordable Wild Alaskan Salmon.  I personally eat Wild Alaskan Salmon twice a week.

5. Minimize Stress

When we are stressed out our bodies release chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenalin, which both raise blood pressure.  Not only will stress raise our blood pressure but stress is also an important cause of coronary heart disease. With our fast paced, hectic lives, we need to do something each day specifically to release our stress.

For me, I find that exercising in the mountains has a powerful effect on lowering my stress levels.  Regardless of what I may be feeling at the time, just spending some time exercising in the mountains seems to make it all go away.

For others, it could be meditation, yoga, spending time with friends, or reading that help with stress.  Find what works for you and do something each day to reduce your stress.

6. Minimize Processed Foods and Sugar

This recommendation goes without saying.  Our processed food and high sugar diet in the U.S. is a big cause of high blood pressure.  It also raises our blood pressure through weight gain.   These simple or hunger causing carbs also cause us to retain fluids which only further raise our blood pressure.  We have to return to real foods.

With regards to added sugar, the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends keeping added sugars to 25 grams/day or lower.  As there are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon, that works out to be a little more than 6 teaspoons a day.  That really is not much if you consider that a 12 oz can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar!

7. Eat Primarily a Plant Based Diet

Eating primarily unprocessed real foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes with fish, is the key to a healthy diet.  These are the foods that lower blood pressure.  It is always better to first try natural ways to lower blood pressure.  These foods heal us.  These foods not only lower our blood pressure but can also reverse many other medical conditions.

8. Keep Your Weight in Check

High blood pressure and being overweight generally go hand-in-hand.  Being overweight is also an important cause of atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, and heart failure.

I saved this for number 8, as if you are doing numbers 1-7 then weight loss will occur naturally.  Most of my patients report dramatic weight loss without feeling hungry by following numbers 1-7.

One of the biggest challenges I have had in working with my patients is in teaching them how to prepare healthy foods. It seems that as a society we have forgotten how to cook.  Instead we have outsourced food preparation to the processed food and fast food corporations who often do not care about the long-term health of their customers.

If we can focus on eating real foods and real living then the weight will come off naturally.  We won’t need to count the calories.  We can live the way we were genetically designed to live!

One point to remember.  When lowering your blood pressure naturally it is important to work with your physician very closely.  Your blood pressure can drop very fast when you make healthy lifestyle changes.  Never stop medications on your own.

How is your blood pressure? What have you found that helps to keep your blood pressure in check? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#010 Six Reasons Why You Need a Vacation Now

June 2nd, 2014 by

Did you know that taking regular vacations can help you to prevent a heart attack? While it seems strange, most Americans do not take their full vacation time. I was the same way once. It really makes no sense at all.

Is stress crushing you?

According to the 2013 Work Stress Survey, 83% of Americans reported being stress out at work. Where are you right now in your life? Are you buried at work? Is stress crushing you?

Do you need a vacation?

The problem is that as Americans we just do not take many vacations. While Europeans get up to 30 days of paid vacation each year, we just get 14 days. Even with these 14 days of vacation, the average American only takes 10 days off.

I get this. I used to be the same way. I would never take any time off. I would let my vacation time go unused so that I could work more. Seems strange doesn’t it?

I’m really not sure what was going on in my head at the time. I think I was trying to work hard and not spend any money in hopes for an earlier retirement. That is if I still had my health by the time I hit retirement age…

It was not until I hit my own health crisis a few years ago that I started taking vacations. Now I know that vacations are absolutely critical to our health, happiness, and longevity!

Let me give you 6 Reasons Why You Need a Vacation Now!

1. Less Stress

We just do not do a good job of dealing with stress in our modern lives. 70% of all doctor visits are due to stress or illnesses brought on or made worse by stress. I see this every day in my medical practice. In fact In a study of 1500 women in Wisconsin, those who rarely took vacations were 90% more stressed out than those who regularly took vacations.

2. More Happiness

While we have always been taught money cannot buy you happiness, that is not always the case. Studies have shown that spending money on life experiences, such as vacations, actually improve happiness.

Interestingly, in a study of 1,530 Dutch people, vacations seem to boost their pre-trip happiness the most. Somehow, just thinking about your upcoming vacation makes you happier. I know this is the case for our family. For the last 20+ years our annual family vacation has been on my parent’s houseboat at Lake Powell. If we even bring up Lake Powell our kids instantly become joyous! Now that I am thinking about this vacation, I can already feel my spirits lifting!

3. More Energy

Yes, vacations can give you more energy! Perhaps it is because they give you a new perspective on life or a chance just to de-stress. Regardless, from the Wisconsin study cited above, women who rarely took vacations were 67% more tired and fatigued than those who regularly took vacations.

4. Better Marriage Satisfaction

Can you really improve your marriage just by taking a vacation? Yes, according to the results of this Wisconsin study. In this study, women who regularly took vacations reported 55% more satisfaction with their marriage. Vacations give us a chance to reconnect with those that are most important in our lives free from all of the stressors of everyday life.

5. Protect Your Heart

Yes, a vacation will help to save you from ever developing heart disease! In fact, from over 12,000 men followed for 9 years in the MRFIT Trial, those who regularly took vacations were 29% less likely to die from a heart attack. Studies of women have shown the same heart protective effects of vacation. Vacationing is indeed good for your heart!

6. Live Longer

If all of the above benefits were not enough, those who regularly take vacations live longer than those who do not. Based on the MRFIT Study above, regular vacationers were 17% less likely to die over the 9 years of the study.

What if I can’t afford a vacation?

You may be thinking, yeah that all sounds great Dr. Day but my wife and I just cannot afford a vacation right now. Vacations do not have to be expensive. In fact, you could even do a “stay’cation”.

Stay’cations, if done right, can yield the exact same health benefits. Of course, a stay’cation does not mean stay home and do chores around the house. It means to get out and explore the area around where you live!

What can I do today?

My challenge to each of you is to take some time and plan a vacation with your family or friends today. There is no better time than the present. It just might make you happier!

How have vacations helped you in your life? What was your best vacation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.