September 28, 2010

Got a Minute for Your Health?

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In the instant-access world of the iPhone and Droid smart phones that constantly update the vagaries taking place around us, it may seem unrealistic to take a moment for anything. Especially in college with a million assignments, deadlines, and social activities awaiting you. Nevertheless, I am asking you to try out this quaint notion and ask yourself: “What have I done for me recently?” If your answer involves double-fisting two pints of beer the previous night and then spending the next day writing a paper, then this article is for you.

The old adage your grandma Bertha, Betsy, (insert old-sounding name here) told you that “health is the greatest form of wealth” is undeniably true. By the way, call your grandma! If not for those brewskys and all day paper writing sessions, you certainly would have by now! So suspend your disbelief and accept your grandma’s adage because she has more wisdom than you, garnered from her college days of brew-induced stupor and paper writing.

How do we go about taking care of our health? Like any form of wealth, we need to make sure that it does not grow stagnant. An investment in your health now will lead to great rewards later in life since, like any good investment, long term dividends are huge.

We can start by analyzing some financial data. Not that it needs reiteration but the current state of the healthcare system in the U.S. is anything but rosy. The average cost of healthcare increases each year and the system is currently not incentivized to keep you healthy for the long term. Since the government will pick up the bill after the age of 65 through Medicare, private insurance companies don’t really care if you binge on Doritos while taking shots of Red Bull. As long as you pay their premiums, and more importantly to their stock holders, they make a profit, everything else becomes a moot point. This may change with the healthcare reform laws but, then again, it is simply too soon to tell. The inevitable truth for now is that employers, the government and private insurance companies increasingly push the cost of care onto us. Even your school healthcare plans have probably increased. So let’s take a hypothetical look at future healthcare costs if you were to continue your unhealthy ways.

According to the CDC, the top three causes of preventable death in the United States are heart disease, cancer and stroke. These diseases commonly occur in the elderly and require life-saving treatments that increase the cost of healthcare within this population. When compared to other industrialized nations, the United States performs poorly in terms of the prevention of these diseases. This is just my hunch, but it is probably due to a healthcare system with no incentive to encourage healthy eating and exercise as well as a food system that cranks out corn syrup faster than Dale Earnhardt Jr. can race the Indy 500. But there is some good news. You can change your environment unlike all the G’s, T’s, A’s and C’s that make you you.

I here your reply now: “But you don’t know how hard it is to take the time to go to the gym! It certainly isn’t possible to have a salad with my busy schedule. These hot pockets and ramen noodles suit me perfectly well!” Hold on just a minute. I don’t want to create havoc in your already hectic lives but living healthy doesn’t have to be difficult.

Let’s start with food. For starters, many of the best things you can eat are readily available and easily edible. For instance, the banana. According to a well-known evangelical, a banana’s edibility is proof that God exists (atheist’s nightmare Youube video, a classic!). You simply pull the tab, insert into mouth and bite. Perhaps he’s right or perhaps after millions of years of evolution a banana simply wants to be eaten to spread it’s seed in monkey poo. Regardless, the banana isn’t going anywhere and you should eat it. It is an excellent replacement for that bag of Doritos. Salads that come pre-packaged for your easy consumption are also vastly more nutritious than ramen noodles. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, add some avocado, raisins, nuts, beans or other toppings to increase nutritional content. Last piece of advice; forego the soft drink for water.

Exercise is the other necessity for healthful living. And it also doesn’t have to be difficult. Find something you like to do. Just the word exercise exerts a huge amount of fear and loathing in the average individual. A healthy hobby just sounds better than exercise and is way less scary. It could be biking, hiking, running, swimming, yoga, kayaking, team sports or just plain good old walking. After all, the Cornell campus is the perfect place to walk. You may even make some new friends or strengthen some old friendships along the way. The other good news is that, according to a 2008 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average person needs only an hour a day of physical activity to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. Before you flip out, an hour a day includes all of the aforementioned activities, so your 15-minute walk to class in the morning counts!  You could then take a short hike in the Nature Preserve to spot that bird you like and your day would be complete.

So here’s what I hope you take away from all this: Call your grandma more, don’t make excuses for not taking care of your health and once you start doing that, look to your immediate friends and family to remind them of the importance of their health. Because deep down you know you want grandma recalling her shenanigan-filled days of yore for many years down the road.

Gabriel Rosenfeld is a forth-year Weill Cornell MD/PhD student. Feedback may be sent to [email protected]. What’s Up, Doc? typically appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Gabriel Rosenfeld