The determinants of good health include more than good food. Yes, food choices are essential in establishing and maintaining good health, but several other factors are important. The FEARLESS approach to achieving good health was a brainstorm of mine that emerged from focusing on eight significant determinants of health. These include Food, Exercise, Avoiding Toxins, Restorative sleep, Lessening stress, Engaging your mind, Social energy, and Spiritual connectivity.
I have already posted several articles on food and will continue to post more. I want to spend time in this article discussing the following two determinants of health: exercise and avoiding toxins.
Never underestimate the importance of exercise. Some parents are exhausted from chasing toddlers around because they are constantly moving. At that age, the brain is curious, and absorbing visual, auditory, and tactile (sensation of touch) information at a high level. There is a built-in mechanism to keep those young muscles and tendons well-toned. The nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves) also benefited from this process early on in life.
As we grow older, it is just as essential to establish a steady schedule of activities. The 8-hour workday, at a desk or sitting down, works against having good muscle tone, cardiac and respiratory health. The heart is a muscle of vital importance that serves to pump oxygen-carrying blood and nutrients to other organs and tissues of the body. The second most essential pumps we possess are our legs. They are actively pumping when they are moving. Whether our legs serve us in walking, climbing, or cycling, the pumping action improves the health of our skeletal muscle, heart, and respiratory muscles.
How much should we exercise?
Many health experts say we should exercise at least 150 minutes a week, which breaks down to approximately 20 minutes a day. If you want to exercise 6 days a week, that would be 25 minutes a day.
Of course, if you have not been exercising at all, you should first discuss this with your doctor. People older than 30, especially if they have underlying medical problems, should certify they are healthy enough to increase their physical activity. Going from 0-60 suddenly, if you have underlying health risks, can result in a heart attack or bodily injury.
What exercise should you consider?
There are a variety of exercises that can increase your heart and respiratory rate and help muscles, tendons, and joints. Walking is always a good start. A brisk 20 to 25-minute walk every day can meet your exercise needs. You don’t have to start an “insanity workout” to fulfill your exercise needs. Engaging in such activities can be pretty risky if over 40 years of age. Using light weights, for example, 2, 3, or 5-pound dumbbells, to tone in the upper extremities can also be helpful.
Push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, and squats all count, in the pantheon of exercise routines. Choose exercises you feel most comfortable doing but mix it up. Using different muscle groups helps balance toning and strengthening. Endurance and strengthening exercises help to get a more fulminant impact from exercising.
It is crucial not to overdo it, be patient and gradually challenge yourself with various routines to avoid injury. Stretching before and after exercising, though, in my experience, is difficult to embed in a daily routine, really helps to reduce the risk of injury.
A regularly scheduled exercise routine can help you handle stress, assist in restorative sleep, help to restore healthy muscle and brain cells when the body is at rest, and increase endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that help reduce pain and create a general feeling of wellness. As healthcare systems and insurance plans become more challenged by the expense of treating the sick and disabled, a higher premium will be placed on rewarding those who maintain good health. This process is already starting to emerge.
A- Avoiding toxins
More than 10,000 food additives in processed foods are sold at our neighborhood grocery stores, restaurants, and fast-food chains. Many of these chemical compounds have never been proven to be safe. In fact, despite the lack of safety studies, they are categorized as “generally regarded as safe-GRAS.”
Currently, the most common toxin exposures are associated with the Standard American Diet. Our liver is our detox organ that, on a minute-to-minute basis, is challenged to detoxify the solids and liquids, and aerosolized chemicals that we consume and inhale. This process can be overwhelmed, creating more free radicals (excessively charged particles) that can damage structural proteins in our bodies, and DNA (our genetic code). The latter can result in some chronic inflammatory problems as well as cancer.
By maintaining good hydration, consuming minimally processed foods (whole foods), and avoiding processed meat, processed sugar, and processed fat (oils, whether animal or vegetable), we can prevent the impact these foods have on our gut, blood vessels, liver and other tissue.
Fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods are not free of toxins. The escalation of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides in our agricultural environment further challenges are liver and other detoxing mechanisms. Choosing organic fruit and vegetables can significantly reduce this exposure but can be expensive. Rigorously washing fruits and vegetables can remove some toxins, but it is often not enough if the fruit or vegetable has a thin skin. The environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes an annual review on the top 10 foods to avoid because of the level of pesticides. They also report on the top 15 foods that are relatively less contaminated with pesticides. These are called the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen,” respectively, and are online.
Of course, the elephant in the room (some rooms), as they say, is cigarette smoking. Avoid smoking at all costs. First-hand smoking (an active cigarette smoker) dramatically increases the risk of dying from lung disease, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease or stroke. Smoking cessation is crucial to achieving better health and should be a priority. Secondhand smoke emanates from the tip of a burning cigarette and is inhaled by someone close. It’s also the smoke exhaled by the smoker, contaminating the surrounding air. This degree of smoke exposure, often experienced by spouses of smokers or their significant others, children, and some people in the public setting, is associated with an increased risk of bronchitis, worsening asthma, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Thirdhand smoke is the ash and other residue created by the combusted tobacco that infiltrates carpets, ducts, carpets, clothing, hair, cushions, and furniture. The ash also settles on the surfaces of tables, chairs, furniture, and appliances and can quickly recirculate into the air. Though the exposure is not as intense as first and secondhand smoke, thirdhand exposure can cause bronchitis, cough, sinus irritation, asthma exacerbation, and lung cancer. These risks can occur from inhaling, touching, or consuming the tobacco residue.
Children often put their hands in their mouths and on various items, and if contaminated with thirdhand smoke, they are at increased risk of having a tobacco-related health problem.
Bottom line, do not start smoking and if you are already smoking, immediately start taking steps to stop. It’s not just a personal decision. It is a family and public health decision.
Finally, I want to address the toxins associated with meat and fish. The American Cancer Society and World Health Organization reviewed over 800 articles and concluded that processed meat increases the risk of cancer by 20%. The risk of colon cancer and other cancers increases when you consume processed meat, including bacon, ham, sausage, salami, and other lunch meat. The food industry has managed to keep this information under the radar, but it is available for anyone who wants to learn more. The number of toxic chemicals that go into processing the meat served to us in restaurants and packaged for our purchasing is staggering. The high salt, saturated fat, and processed sugar that accompanies the toxic chemicals create a portion of food that fosters subsequent chronic, debilitating, and eventually fatal disease. At the same time, this manipulation of ingredients and chemicals makes us want to come back for more.
Fish is generally regarded as a healthy food choice because it offers omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fat and cholesterol. The truth is, most of the fish we consume now are factory-farmed and tainted by chemicals thrown into (including antibiotics) the water where the fish are overcrowded and stressed. The pollution of oceans and lakes has led to the concentration of various toxins in the fat of the fish. These include heavy metals such as lead and mercury and chemical compounds that include PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins, and chlorinated pesticides. These contaminants may cause changes in immune system function, impact nerve and nerve development, and affect memory and motor skills.
Our oceans are overfished, and the consequences of aquafarms, combined with net fishing, set us up for an ecologic crisis. We can get our omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources such as flaxseed, chia, hemp seed, and walnuts (if not allergic to them). Algae-based omega-3 supplements are also an option. Some studies have reported increased prostate cancer associated with omega-3 supplements, but it is not clear whether they included algae-based omega-3 or mostly fish oil sources.
Exercise plays a vital role in preserving health. Avoiding as many toxins as possible is crucial to extend both life and health span. I hope this article will help you as you fine-tune your recipe for self-preservation. Future articles will cover the five remaining determinants (restorative sleep, lessening stress, engaging your mind, social energy, and spiritual connectivity).