Great health is quite more than the simple absence of disease. Ultimately, it means having a vibrant life, having the energy and ability to be successful in our various endeavors, and feeling physically and mentally "great" without being held back by illness or injury.
It also means having a reserve of health to count on when we do get ill or injured, so that we recover and heal. At some point though, great health means avoiding the common diseases we encounter, especially with aging. With that in mind, let's first consider what we are up against. What are we suffering and dying from?
Nine out of the 10 leading causes of death in America are largely preventable. The first three categories are the cause of more than two-thirds of all deaths, starting with heart disease, cancer and stroke. The rest of the list includes chronic lung disease, accidents, Alzheimer's dementia, diabetes, pneumonia, kidney disease and blood infections. Of special note, the seldom-mentioned but fourth leading cause of death is actually due to the side effects of prescription medications!
Staying healthy and avoiding disease centers around having our DNA express the built-in genetic switches that protect and promote health. Our metabolic and detoxification systems need to operate smoothly. The immune system needs to function in a balanced fashion, able to both defend against foreign invaders or internal cells gone awry, but also show tolerance so as not develop allergies or autoimmune disease. At a practical level we need to combat two foes of aging - oxidation and inflammation.
Attitude, diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, digestive health, detoxification, supplements and hormone balance. These are the keys.
Health, like so many things, does not rely on a secret key that suddenly unlocks the pathway to success. We can't have instant success, instant loyalty or trust, instant weight loss, or instant health. Success starts with a desire, a vision and a plan. Success happens due to effort and perseverance. Success is achieved with everyday decisions that will compound over time to produce results.
Attitude means making the easy decisions every day that add up to great health. It is just as easy not to do the right things as it is to do the right things. Eating that greasy cheeseburger and fries with a super-size soda is an easy choice - one that is not likely to kill you today, but compounded over time it will. Just as easy is to eat something healthy. Skipping exercise, again, is easy. So is making the choice to exercise. Great health starts with having the right attitude to make the right choices - without the right attitude then you may as well stop reading now.
Nutrition is our first medicine. Avoid sugar, high-glycemic carbs, inflammatory trans-fats and hydrogenated oils. Stay away from overly processed, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods. Be suspicious if food comes in a bag, box, can or jar. Avoid fried or charred foods. Don't eat unfermented soy. Limit excess caffeine and alcohol.
Eat at least 6 to 8 servings per day of raw, preferably organic fruits and vegetables. Include one green salad entree daily with many colored vegetables. Berries are the best fruits. Get protein from lean sources such as fish, venison, grass-fed meats and poultry - all containing more of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fat. Include healthy oils, such as coconut and olive oil. Snack on seeds and nuts. Include plenty of water and remember green tea is an elixir of health.
We are designed to exercise, period. Many hormones and enzymes in the body only work when stimulated by exercise. Some exercise is better than none. Strive to exercise every day. Ideally we should divide our efforts equally into working on flexibility, aerobic conditioning and strength training.
Sleep is so essential for great health it is hard to emphasize enough. Sleep is a very active process. During stage 3-4 deep sleep our physical body rests and repairs, producing hormones such as growth hormone, sex hormones, and thyroid. During REM sleep our mental body awakens, refreshes and "reorganizes" for another day.
Chronic stress is a killer. It fuels the stress hormone cortisol, which leads both directly and indirectly to consequences that promote disease. We can avoid some stressors, such as situations or people, but ultimately we have to learn to manage the unavoidable stressors in life. Managing stress means taking time every day to break the stress cycle - easily done with a few minutes of deep breathing, or grounding activities such as mediation or yoga. Even taking a casual stroll will lower cortisol levels.
A healthy gut is truly a foundation for great health. The intestinal tract has the most surface area and most exposure to the "outside" world. Nutrition, detoxification, and immunity begin in the gut. Get tested for delayed food allergies. Learn about the intestinal microbiome and the dysbiosis that occurs when the balance of good and bad bacteria are upset.
We live in a toxic world and our health is paying the price. Hundreds of chemicals invade our environment and our body leading to oxidative damage, inflammation and an overloaded detoxification system. Toxins are everywhere, found in personal care and home products, food, water and air. Don't put anything on your skin you would not eat. Get tested for heavy metal accumulation and learn about simple foods and supplements that assist with detoxification. Regular cleanses are a good idea.
There is a logical, evidence-based rationale for taking certain supplements. Most of us are not getting enough nutrients from our diet. Impaired gut health, toxic exposures, medication side effects, and even aging itself can lead to an increased need for certain supplements. We are learning about genetic mutations common to us all and for some enough to require increased amounts of certain nutrients. Seek a qualified practitioner that can help you avoid the "snake oil" and get on quality supplements.
Last, ensure hormone balance and replace deficient hormones. The body is designed to run optimally with our hormone systems overseeing every step of the process. A predictable decline in hormone levels occur with aging and replacing hormones to youthful levels will help prevent age-related disease and maintain quality of health.
These are the simple keys to great health. Have an attitude that will guide you to eat right, exercise regularly, sleep well, and manage stress. Support healthy gut and detox systems. Seek a functional medical cure to ailments as they arise instead of relying on prescription drugs that usually only mask the symptoms. Get professional help with supplements and hormone replacement.
Here's wishing you great health!
Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.