Well, I was going to write about weather and its impact on wellness because we’ve had some beautiful days lately, but when I read the New York Times last night, I had to make a shift in my plan. In addition to my favorite part of the newspaper, The Science Times, which is published on Tuesdays, I discovered a special section, Well, a collection of articles on what we might need to know about staying well as we age. As a wellness coach, I am always interested in what we can do to take better care of ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there is a place for medications, used appropriately. After working as a nurse in pediatric oncology and as a medical advertising copywriter and creative director, I’ve seen the benefits of pharmaceuticals. But, lifestyle changes are a huge part of the equation when seeking better health and wellness. An integrated approach is best, but not one where you think taking cholesterol-lowering medications is a license to eat with abandon, let’s say. Several articles in Well address the magical effects of positive, healthy lifestyle changes on different structures and organs of the body. I won’t review all of them, but the one about having a healthier heart speaks volumes.
the Well piece on the heart, Eating Your Way to a Sturdy Heart,
Tara Parker-Pope writes that “simple and even pleasurable
changes in the foods you eat can rival medication in terms of the
benefit to your heart”—an organ you’ll need for the
rest of your life. She mentions that there is a lot of data to show
that just a few small changes, including eating more fish, nuts,
vegetables, and fiber, can make a huge difference in heart health.
So, why aren’t people making those changes? Are you eating more
of these foods lately? If not, what steps could you take to move
closer to that way of eating? When will you start? Speaking of steps,
Gina Kolata’s Well article on exercise, More Than An
Exercise In Vanity” focused on functional fitness,
endurance and strength as key to aging well. If you happen to fall
when you’re older, you do want to be able to get
up. If exercise isn’t a regular part of your routine, how could
you make that happen? What would happen if you don’t exercise?
you want to change your diet? A diet rich in fish-derived
omega fatty acids can lower the risk of death by almost 25%. Send the
grilled salmon right over here, please. She went on to mention that
some studies show that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids from fish,
nuts and other sources can lower cardiovascular risk by 60%. Adding a
salad to your day isn’t difficult these days, with the wide
variety of bagged greens and produce available. I don’t know
about you, but I want my heart to hold out for as long as possible.
Another enormous contributor to heart disease is smoking. The good news is that fewer people are smoking these days, helping to reduce the rate of cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, as I finished reading Well and The Science Times section, I reached for the first section of the paper, and right on the top left was the headline, Cigarette Bill Treats Menthol With Leniency. What’s that about, I wondered? It turns out that Congress wants to give the FDA the right to regulate tobacco for the first time, but menthol would be exempt from regulation. Lobbyists for the tobacco industry are protecting mentholated brands, which make up 25% of the $70 billion dollar industry, probably because these brands seem to help new smokers tolerate the taste of tobacco and likely encourage addiction. It seems that they are heavily marketed to African-Americans; about 75% of African Americans smoke mentholated brands, a fact I didn’t know before reading this article. But, because of the way our legislative system works, the exemption for menthol must be tolerated in order to pass the larger issue of tobacco regulation. This is very unfortunate, as African-Americans, who are generally under served medically in this country are often diagnosed late when they develop lung cancer, which places them at a distinct treatment disadvantage.
I’m not sure that regulating tobacco is the answer, as it seems there is infighting within the industry, with some, such as Philip Morris, supporting regulation and others not. This may give cigarette makers the ability to say that the FDA has approved their brands as less harmful. Is that a benefit? I guess that’s in line with how the FDA operates, approving certain drugs that are less harmful than others… My personal preference would be to engage tobacco industry executives and workers in purposeful work other than making cigarettes, which would eliminate a major source of many medical conditions (not just lung cancer) and out-of-control health care costs.
Let’s turn the page to Tuesday’s obituaries, where I came upon the life of Murray Jarvik, uncle of Dr. Robert Jarvik, who developed the first artificial heart implanted into a human. Murray Jarvik was a psychopharmacologist who contributed to development of the first nicotine patch. The quote chosen to close his obituary, words he wrote in 1977, is telling: “It is strange that people should go to such lengths to burn and then inhale some vegetable matter. We must find out what is rewarding about it."
So, eating our vegetables is better for us than smoking them, but grilling and eating fish is good, too. And, it’s better to never start smoking. What healthy lifestyle changes will you make—or think about making—today? You can find more ideas on www.nytimes.com/wellguide. I wish you well.
Beth Tansey Peller, RN, BS is a health writer and wellness coach certified by Wellcoaches Corporation. Beth focuses on helping women dealing with the multiple responsibilities of midlife amid the hormonal shifts of perimenopause to achieve long-desired positive changes in fitness, nutrition, stress management and overall wellness.Beth offers affordable e-booklets in her series, Make It Happen in Midlife!, as well as a range of individual and group coaching services. You can find out more about Beth by visiting www.bewellwithbeth.com. Register to receive your free e-booklet, This Change Will Do You Good.