ULTIMATELY, I THINK ANY PHYSICIAN has to first want to maximize health without creating a dependency on pills. This is the essence of the statement in the Hippocratic oath that says, “First do no harm.” Otherwise, health care workers continue to add to the epidemic of what I call the self-medication generation. Making some basic changes to your lifestyle can help reduce or eliminate the need for most pills, increase longevity, and improve your life. I am not a pill-pusher, despite my passion for supplements. Above all, I’m a healthy-lifestyle advocate.
I believe the foundation of good health starts with your heart. If you make sure this vital organ is taken care of, all of the other major systems of the body are better able to do what they do best. You’ll see this concept repeatedly throughout the book. Whether it’s your eyes, your liver, or your genitals, your body functions best when your heart is healthy.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been the number one cause of death in women and men for 114 of the last 115 years! It was surpassed only once, in 1918, by the great influenza epidemic (and even then it was number two). CVD claims more lives each year than cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and accidents combined. While some people are very aware of how serious CVD is, many others aren’t, or they’ve become desensitized to it—or are just plain tired of hearing about it—since every week seems to bring new research about what causes it, what makes it worse, and which interventions can reduce the risk of dying from it.
I think the last reason may give people a false sense of complacency: Medicine will fix it! All I need is a statin for my cholesterol and a stent to prop open the artery and I’m good to go! How bad could it be?
However, even with all of our medical advances (and the fact that the vast majority of health research dollars are spent on CVD and cancer research), we have only taken a massive epidemic and turned it into a normal-size epidemic. Did you know that of the more than 800,000 men and women who died from CVD in the past year, approximately 150,000 were younger than 65? This is an epidemic of the young and old: In fact, recent research has found that the first hints of CVD begin to show up in our teens!
So, the more you do to lower your risk of CVD, the better your chances of enjoying a longer and healthier life and the lower your chances of having to rely on drugs, including supplements. Here’s what’s key: I would like to see people making these changes before they start taking supplements. Naturally, in some cases you’ll want to alleviate your symptoms as soon as possible, but at the very least you should be making these changes concurrently with taking supplements. If you’re truly committed to getting better— feeling better—you need to commit to adopting the following heart-healthy habits.
The Seven Health Healthy Habits
These seven habits for heart health (and therefore overall health) are synergistic, which means the more of them you do, the greater your reduction in risk of major diseases and the longer your life span.
In fact, each one you carry out accounts for a 10 to 15 percent improvement in health; accomplishing all seven would mean you’ve reduced your risk of major diseases as much as 90 to 95 percent and increased your odds of living to age 85 or longer (with no or little physical or mental disability) by 80 to 90 percent. There are no other antiaging strategies that can match these effects. If a pill did all this, it would receive a Nobel Prize in medicine. These habits are also cheaper than taking a pill daily, and they’re doable!
While these recommendations may seem pretty basic and easy to accomplish, most people can’t seem to follow them. They’d rather take a drug—or die early. I’m hoping this book will help change that mind-set. These strategies take a lifetime of commitment (once you get into the habit, it’s not that hard), but every time you conquer just one , you change your life dramatically.
1. Exercise regularly
Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes 5 or 6 days a week; if you’re working out at a vigorous level—where you’re really huffing and puffing—you can get away with less time. Cardiovascular exercise and resistance training are both important. Also, make sure to choose activities that you’ll actually do (if you don’t like running, don’t run!).
2. Eat a moderately healthy diet
This means emphasizing vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates (like fiber), and healthy fats and limiting unhealthy fats, processed carbohydrates (think cookies, crackers, white-flour pasta), and sugar (not just cakes and candy but also sugary drinks). You’re not aiming for perfection or deprivation here; you’re just trying to eat in a way that helps you feel better and helps get your CVD risk numbers to a normal level.
For the most part, I believe that if a diet is reasonable, lowers your CVD risk, and keeps you happy, it is the right one— whether it is low carb, moderate carb, high protein, high good fat, low fat, vegan, Paleo, etc.—and this is what I encounter working with patients and in the research, too.
3. Eliminate all tobacco exposure (cigarettes, secondhand smoke, and smokeless sources)
Smoking is a leading risk factor for CVD and most other diseases as well.
4. Maintain a normal blood pressure (120/80 or less).
5. Maintain a normal blood sugar level (less than 100 mg/dL after fasting).
6. Maintain healthy cholesterol levels
(an LDL of less than 100 mg/dL, an HDL of 50 mg/dL or higher, and triglycerides of less than 100 mg/dL after fasting).
7. Maintain a healthy weight or waist size
Ideally, you want a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 or a waist circumference of less than 32.5 inches for women and 35 inches for men.