Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
How to Avoid the 8 Things That Wreck Your Health
No one wants to feel miserable, battle multiple medical problems, and take lots of medicines. Yet that is what most Americans are doing the last 10 years of their lives according to the World Health Organization. In this article, I will teach you how to avoid the 8 things that wreck your health.
Things That Wreck Your Health Study
Recently, Dr. Christopher Murray, from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, led a team of the top 100 scientists to discover what was wrecking the health of Americans. After digging through countless studies evaluating 291 different medical conditions, they identified those things that were most likely to wreck your health.
Dr. Murray and his team’s findings were published in an article entitled, U.S. burden of disease 1990 to 2010. Below are the top eight things that wreck your health and what you can do to reverse these medical conditions.
1. Unhealthy Diet: 14 quality years lost
Even more than smoking, the number one thing that will wreck your health is a bad diet. Indeed, an unhealthy diet can literally turn the last 14 years of your life into one big health nightmare.
Sadly, most Americans have no idea they’re eating an unhealthy diet. For example, a recent NPR survey reported that 75% of Americans say they are eating healthy. This is despite the fact that studies show Americans are eating way too much sugar and processed foods and far too few vegetables.
Fortunately, this is something that can be easily reversed. While there is a lot of confusion about what is a healthy diet, eating right is really quite simple.
For example, there are three things that all experts can agree on when it comes to what is a healthy diet. These three things are as follows:
1. Minimize/avoid sugar (this includes other sugars like processed carbohydrates).
2. Minimize/avoid processed and prepared foods.
3. Eat as many vegetables as you can (goal of 6 servings daily or two per meal).
If you can do these three things then you are 95% of the way to eating healthy. Indeed, most of the patients I see everyday in my clinic have heart conditions which can be traced back to violating one of these three healthy diet principles.
2. Smoking: 12 quality years lost
I don’t need to go into much of a discussion here. Smoking ages you fast and turns the last 12 years of your life into a living hell.
3. High BMI: 11 quality years lost
A BMI over 25 will rob you of 11 quality years of life. To find out if you are overweight and what your BMI is, follow this link. If your BMI is 25 or higher, below are three things you can do to get back to a healthy weight.
1. Eat healthy to control hunger
To stop feeling hungry all the time, give up sugar and processed carbohydrates like bread, cereals, pasta, bakery items, white rice, etc. Second, minimize or avoid processed and prepared foods. Lastly, eat as many vegetables as you can with a goal of at least six servings per day or two servings with each meal.
2. Exercise to boost metabolism.
3. Eat only what your body needs.
Besides eating healthy to control hunger and exercising to increase metabolism, there are two ways to eat only as much as your body needs. The first is to practice mindful eating and the second is to make yourself accountable for everything you choose to put in your mouth.
The goal of mindful eating is to eat based on real hunger not emotions. Some examples include using a smaller plate size, turning off electronic devices while eating, eating slower, only eat when sitting at a table, take a break mid meal, eat with your non-dominant hand or chopsticks, put your fork down between each bite, try to identify every ingredient in your meal, or knowing where everything you eat comes from.
The second strategy is to make yourself accountable to someone or something. This is the strategy that works best for me. With this approach, you record or report back everything you eat.
4. High blood pressure: 8 quality years lost
High blood pressure wears out your arteries, heart, and brain. In addition, high blood pressure can cause kidney failure and blindness.
Sadly, 90% of Americans will have high blood pressure by age 50! To protect yourself from losing 8 quality years of life, here is a link to an article I wrote (blog #131) on 10 ways to lower your blood pressure naturally.
Basically, reversing high blood pressure will probably require weight loss, massive amounts of vegetables, daily exercise, restorative sleep at night, and changing your perception of stress. By following the steps outlined in my blood pressure article, most of my patients can get their blood pressure to the American Heart Association goal of 120/80 mmHg without medications.
5. High blood glucose: 6 quality years lost
A fasting blood glucose above 100 mg/dL is considered diabetic or pre-diabetic. Unfortunately, nearly half of all Americans have a fasting blood glucose above 100. With a simple blood test, your doctor can immediately tell if your blood glucose is too high.
As with high blood pressure, too much sugar in your blood causes rusting and premature aging of your body. While this did result in losing 6 good years of health in this study, I would have expected the effects of diabetes/pre-diabetes to have been much more serious.
Fortunately, getting your blood glucose back to the normal range is easy for most people. This really comes down to doing three things.
1. Keep your BMI below 25.
2. Do something physical after eating.
3. Only eat foods with a glycemic index of 50 or lower.
The number one cause of diabetes or pre-diabetes is a BMI over 25. For most people, getting your BMI below 25 will reverse diabetes/pre-diabetes.
If you can do something physical after eating, it will drive excess glucose into your muscles. In the muscles, glucose can then be stored for future use without damaging your arteries or organs. To learn more about this technique, please read my article, How to Prevent Weight Gain After Eating a Big Meal (blog #28).
The third approach is to only eat foods with a glycemic index of 50 or lower. When it comes to health, staying thin, and preventing diabetes, the lower your foods on the glycemic index the better. To see how your favorite foods fall on the glycemic index, follow this link to Harvard’s site. If you want to make sure your foods fall below 50, just avoid sugar and processed carbohydrates.
6. Not exercising: 6 quality years lost
Another surprise from this study was that not exercising only robs you of six quality years of life. Personally, I would have expected not exercising to be right up there with an unhealthy diet and smoking.
As I have discussed in many previous blog articles, exercise is paramount to good health. Fortunately, any physical activity is helpful. The key thing is to find activities you enjoy and do them every day.
Until exercise becomes a “drug” for you, you will probably need to be accountable to someone or something to make sure this happens everyday. This accountability could take the form of an exercise partner, a sports team, a class at the gym, an app on your phone, or a personal trainer.
7. Alcohol: 5 quality years lost
Basically, these flawed studies failed to account for people who don’t drink because of either health or addiction problems. When you account for people who can’t drink because of health or addiction issues, then studies show that non-drinkers live longer and healthier than moderate drinkers.
In this study, alcohol robs you of five good years of life. This is because alcohol can cause anemia, cancer, heart problems, liver problems, dementia, high blood pressure, and depression. Thus, it is no surprise that alcohol kills one in 10 Americans according to the CDC.
8. High cholesterol: 4 quality years lost
Just like high blood pressure, having a cholesterol level higher than it should be causes blockages to form. Once blockages develop, it is only a matter of time before a heart attack or stroke occurs.
Fortunately, lowering cholesterol naturally is something that is easy to do. I personally was able to drop my total cholesterol nearly 100 mg/dL by following the principles I outlined in these two articles.
If you don’t have the time to read these articles, the bottom line is that minimizing meat and dairy, getting daily exercise, eating lots of vegetables and fiber rich foods, and avoiding sugar and processed foods should get your cholesterol where it needs to be naturally.
Take Home Message
The key message of this article is that there are many ways you could wreck your health. Fortunately, for most people, these medical problems can be easily corrected with a healthy dose of “lifestyle medicine.”
What are you doing to feel great, avoid medical problems, or having to take medications? Please leave your thoughts and comments below. I promise to do my best to answer every question in a timely manner.
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This article is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. The general information provided is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Please consult with your healthcare provider for any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.