By Dr. Dana Myatt
Disease and poor health are rarely caused by a single, cataclysmic event. Most people do not lose their health overnight. Instead, disease and declining health result from an accumulation of poor judgment and unhealthy lifestyle choices. In other words, most disease is caused by a few small mistakes, repeated frequently.
Why would anyone who knows they are making bad choices or "cheating" on their health be so foolish to keep repeating those bad choices day in and day out? Because the average person doesn’t realize how much small choices matter.
Individually, our small daily indiscretions don’t seem that important. A slight bit of overeating here, forgetting to take supplements a meal or two there, skipping our daily exercise a couple of times a week doesn’t cause any instant or noticeable problem. Most of the time, we escape any immediate consequences of our "slips."
People who eat too many unhealthy foods are contributing to future health problems, but the temporary pleasure of the moment overshadows the potential consequences of the future. If one is lucky, that over-the-top sugary desert causes a stomach ache and we are not eager to repeat the taste again. Usually, however, there is no apparent consequence for such a "small" bad choice. And so we come to believe that such a choice "doesn’t matter," forgetting that such choices are cumulative. Because there are no apparent repercussions, it becomes increasingly easier to enjoy a sweet desert more often.
The same holds true for smoking, drinking, skipping exercise, skimping on sleep. One may not feel immediate consequences, but don’t be fooled! The consequences have simply been delayed for a future date. These choices accumulate until the "day of reckoning" arrives. Eventually the price must be paid for our "little" poor choices—choices that didn’t seem to matter at the time.
Disease’s most dangerous trait is subtlety. Those little errors don’t seem to make any difference. We eat desert every night and nothing bad seems to happen. Our health does not seem to be failing. Because nothing terrible happens over these small choices and no immediate consequence captures our attention, we continue from day to day, repeating the errors, eating the wrong foods, skipping the exercise, forgetting our supplements and making poor choices. The sky did not fall on us yesterday when we skipped our supplements, so they probably don’t have much effect and skipping them doesn’t matter. Since the choice seemed to have no negative consequence, it is probably safe to repeat.
Wake up and smell the green tea!
If we ate a rich desert and woke up the next morning with fifty extra pounds of fat hanging off our middle, we’d notice.
Such immediate feedback would undoubtedly merit an emergency visit to the doctor and a promise to ourselves not to repeat such an act. Like a child who sticks his finger in a flame despite warnings, the instantaneous feedback would have convinced us of the folly of our ways.
"Just a Little Won’t Hurt"
An occasional sweet treat probably won’t make a big health difference, especially for those who are doing the other "small things" right on a regular basis. The problem is that many people make these "small exceptions" far more often than they admit. Consider what these "small cheats" can do to you.
The World Health Organization previously recommended no more than 10% of daily calories from sugar, but now they’re considering lowering that to 5%. For an average, healthy adult, that would mean 25 grams or about six teaspoons of sugar per day. According to the USDA food tables, a single can of Coke has 33 grams of sugar or about the equivalent of 8 teaspoons of granulated sugar. "Just one little soda" per day is way over the recommended limit.
What’s the big deal with excess sugar? If can damage the heart, increase risk of diabetes, insulin resistance and high blood pressure and is significantly associated with an increased risk of cancer to name only a few of the long list of problems.
Unfortunately, most poor choices don’t holler out warnings or give immediate feedback. This is why anyone aiming for good health, sustained into old age, must be wise enough to recognize the cumulative effects of small daily choices and develop a philosophy of consistently making better choices. With a clear personal health philosophy guiding our steps, we can more clearly see our errors in judgment and also see how those small daily choices really do matter.
In reverse order, the results of consistent good choices are not always immediately apparent. As one patient recently remarked, "I took those supplements for a whole week and didn’t feel any different!" Positive changes resulting from small, positive choices take time to accumulate and manifest, just like poor choices take time to manifest.
How Small is "Small”?
For Regular exercise, "small" is a little as 15 minutes or 1/2 mile per day.
Fifteen minutes of walking per day increased lifespan by up to three years in elderly subjects. This amount of exercise reduced death from all causes by 14%.
Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study.
Walking only 72 blocks per week, consistently over the course of 9 years, improved gray matter volume and help preserve cognitive function. Seventy-two blocks per week is 3.6 miles of 1/2 mile per day, not exactly marathon distance.
Exercising as little as 15 minutes, 3 times per week, reduced the risk dementia among persons 65 years of age and older.
Fortunately, the formula for health is just as easy as the formula for disease. Good health is a matter of a few simple habits practiced every day.
One way to make small daily habits a part of our routine is to make a decision to be healthy in the future. Only by caring about our state of health in the future will we be able and willing to make small, positive changes today.
What do you want your future to look like? When you are old, do you want to be healthy and vigorous, still able to play a keen round of golf or throw a few hoops with the grandkids? If you can see yourself as vigorous and healthy tomorrow, you will have stoked the fires of enthusiasm today.
Small, consistent use of vitamin supplements yield big benefits
Daily intake of a multiple vitamin over the course of ten years lowered risk of colon cancer in men and women aged 30-62 years of age.
Vitamin D therapy significantly decreased all-cause mortality with a duration of follow-up longer than 3 years. Note that the life-extension effects of vitamin D were seen after three years of consistent intake.
The Iowa Women’s Health Study showed that women who supplemented with vitamins C, D, E and calcium had significantly lower risks of mortality.
How many good things could happen to your health if you took just a few minutes each day to think about your future?
The consequences of your repeated actions would become clear to you, and the day-to-day choices would become easier.
One of the exciting things about this "Health formula" — just changing a few simple habits, practiced every day — is that the results, though not immediate, can be seen quickly. Fifteen minutes a day of exercise, replacing water for soda pop, taking nutritional supplements regularly instead of occasionally — these simple habits will improve our health noticeably in just a few weeks. That positive feedback, combined with our increased awareness and proactivity toward our future, can make a significant difference in our health today and tomorrow.
Little choices practiced consistently add up to big results, whether for good or ill. Remember,
"The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones." — Chinese proverb.
Will you start today to make "deposits" toward a future of good health?
Erickson, K.I.; Raji C.A.; O.L. Lopez O.L., et al. Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood:The Cardiovascular Health Study. Neurology. 2010 Oct 19; 75(16): 1415–1422.
Larson EB, Wang L, Bowen JD, McCormick WC, Teri L, Crane P, Kukull W. Exercise is associated with reduced risk for incident dementia among persons 65 years of age and older. Ann Intern Med. 2006 Jan 17;144(2):73-81.
E White, J S Shannon and R E Patterson. Relationship between vitamin and calcium supplement use and colon cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev October 1997 6; 769
Zheng Y, Zhu J, Zhou M, Cui L, Yao W, Liu Y. Meta-analysis of long-term vitamin D supplementation on overall mortality. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 3;8(12):e82109.
Mursu J, Robien K, Harnack LJ, Park K, Jacobs DR Jr. Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study. Arch Intern Med. 2011 Oct 10;171(18):1625-33.
Posted in Nutrition and Health, Senior Health | No Comments »