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by Larry

December, 2007

Healthy Choices

Most Americans, as in the Garrison Keillor line about Lake Wobegon children, think their health is above average. It is easy enough to be optimistic when we have no severe symptoms yet. But, besides a variety of other, often lesser ills, like joint problems, hypoglycemia, or addictions, about two-thirds of us in this country are overweight or obese. Just on average, we are roughly 20% overweight. And that statistic conceals other difficulties. Increased weight leads to more diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic issues, cancers, and strokes.

Moreover, as we consume more we put a greater strain on the overall national system of production and on our economy, borrowing more both as individual consumers and as a nation to finance all the extra food, medicine, commodities, and industrial output that are required along with our increased girth, costlier health care, bigger chairs or cars or restaurant portions, and so on.

The Center for Disease Control says obesity has reached epidemic proportions and is our worst health care crisis. Not only adults but a large number of children are also quite overweight or obese, so this problem and its diverse ramifications are likely to be with us for some time to come.

What can be done? Realizing that the longest journey begins with but a single step and as well that reform must begin at home, in the spirit of the New Year's resolutions suggested in "Bottoms Up," here are suggestions I now intent taking to heart:

1. Move More - Everything else being equal, the more one stays in condition by being physically active, the better one's quality of life and likelihood of living longer. So, as a good start, add a daily average of 2500 extra steps or 20 minutes a day of walking, swimming, bicycling, and/or similar aerobic exercise. (Other ideas: Take a morning walk with the dog; plant a tree; make and tend a garden; rake or mow the yard; park a half mile away from work and walk the rest to and from the office; look after small children; clean the house; workout on an exercise machine while watching TV; go dancing; shake to a "Sweatin' to the Oldies" video; walk to that park a few blocks from your workplace to eat your nutritious bag lunch; etc.)

2. Eat Less Salt - It is almost impossible in the modern world to have too little salt in one's diet. Yet, as if we could never have enough, it is added to many foods, is in cheese, is part of thousands of commercially available snacks, and is available for liberal shaking of extra supplementary amounts at nearly every dining table. But salt makes it harder to lose weight, aggravates some medical conditions, and makes others, such as hypertension, much more likely. A better diet basic might be to never routinely add salt and to eat foods generally that are lower in salt content. For those missing the flavor, try instead a shake or two of cayenne pepper, sage, oregano, powdered cloves, cinnamon, or turmeric. Besides taste, all these can add important balancing factors to one's diet.

3. Nuts! - It's not just a really cool Battle of the Bulge thing for an American general, surrounded in Bastogne, to say (when asked by a Nazi army to surrender). It is also a great way of winning one's own battle of the bulge. Nuts such as almonds and pistachios are satisfying snacks, reduce bad cholesterol, and offer excellent nutrients. A handful or two a day will help keep the doctor away.

4. Take Up with Popeye's Girlfriend - Whereas one can hardly have too little extra salt, one may hardly get too much of olive oil. It goes a long way toward offsetting the buildup of arterial plaque that can squeeze the blood supply down to a trickle and lead to strokes or heart attacks. And the kind of olive oil is important. "Extra-virgin" has not been refined and so still has most of its beneficial properties. Be sure to buy containers that say this on the label.

5. Apples and Apple Juice - These foods may be great alternative snacks or ways of getting one's needed five or more daily portions of fruit, for they slow the aging process and significantly help reduce the risk of heart disease from arterial thickening.

6. Eat avocados - ... in lieu of butter or other less beneficial fatty foods. Avocados have been shown to aid in the health of eyes and to reduce saturated fat, if substituted for other forms of fat in one's diet. They may be eaten with pepper as a snack item by themselves or in salads, in salsa, on sandwiches, in TexMex foods, etc.

7. Consume Peanut Butter or Peanuts - Peanuts, like other legumes, for their size pack quite a punch. They are a rich source of many needed nutrients, are great antioxidants, fight cancer, decrease the risk of heart disease, are a high fiber food, are an excellent energy snack (being high in protein), and significantly raise HDL or "good" cholesterol.

8. Strawberries - They not only taste delicious but also are another great antioxidant and anti-cancer food, in addition to providing needed fiber and many nutrients.

9. Whole Grains Are Best! - In breads, pastas, and cereals, for instance of wheat or oats, whole grains are super ways to fight heart disease while providing good nutrition and plenty of fiber. They also are terrific at fighting diabetes.

10. Lots and Lots of Veggies and Fruits - In addition to the thoughts mentioned above, consuming fruits and vegetables in general are a quite tasty and effective way to stay healthy. A diet rich in veggies and fruits can provide needed nutrition and significantly cut one's risks of strokes, urinary tract infections, depression, eye disease, diabetes, cancer, kidney stones, bone loss, heart disease, high blood pressure, susceptibility to viruses, etc.

Changing one's exercise and consumption fare to such healthier choices as these can not only help get the individual in much better shape, but, by dramatically cutting the extra energy, health care, resources, costs, and land use necessary to maintain our inflated waist (or waste) levels, people with healthier lifestyles can contribute much toward our country's and our economy's overall health. In this way, what is good for us is also very positive for the ecology, while making good economic sense, a win-win-win result!

If enough people get on this bandwagon, we could reduce our national debt, our balance of payment deficits, our huge carbon "footprint," and our overall pollution levels, all by simply living in ways that will make us happier and help us lead longer and better lives.

Then too, we would have more money and available acreage for such cool, environmentally friendly things as hike-and-bike trails, wilderness areas, green belts, conservation regions, wildlife preserves, and parks.

Who will join me in this revolution? Hmm. I wonder if perhaps I still have a little too much caffeine in my system. Maybe for now I'd better just see if I can stick with a set of simple New Year's resolutions. Today less salt, tomorrow the world!

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