Friday, April 20, 2012

Screw Your Health?!

So, what's your excuse for not exercising enough, for smoking, for not watching your diet, for getting fatter every year, and therefore having high blood pressure, and too much glucose and cholesterol in your blood?

 That's what the American Heart Association has been telling you for so many years NOT to do. How can I be sure that you, dear reader, are one of those people who only pay lip service to health? I can't, but as a numbers guy I go with the statistics. 
And when health is concerned the statistics tell me that there are obviously only two types of people. Those who do enough for their health, and those who merely think they do. The latter make up 98.8% of the population [1]. That is, only one in a hundred meets all 7 health metrics: not smoking, eating a healthy diet, no overweight, sufficiently physically active, normal blood pressure, normal levels of glucose and cholesterol. Four out of every 5 Americans meet 4 or less of those metrics. Actually, only one in four meets 4 metrics. How can that be when having at least 6 of those metrics will cut your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 75% compared to those who meet one criterion or none? How much more incentive do you want?
That's the frustrating question I'm asking myself every day. Because whether it is in the US, in Germany or anywhere else in this world, maintaining health and preventing disease is a frustrating service to provide. I used to think this is so, because when you don't feel it, it is health. And what you don't feel, you don't appreciate. But if that was true, the first diagnosis of a chronic condition, such as heart disease or diabetes, should surely be a wake-up call. But it isn't. Only 40% of smokers quit when  being told that they have such a chronic disease, and that smoking will make it worse [2]. That's still a lot compared to the behavior change in exercise: Nil, no change at all.  And for every American who quit smoking in 2011 another American became obese. 
If you have read my earlier blog posts, you'll remember that I'm a strong advocate of recognizing the autonomic neurohormonal mechanisms which certainly drive our eating and exercising behaviors. But we are not exclusively controlled by those. We still have a few brain centers which give us the abilities and skills that make us human: volition, reasoning, intelligence. Of course you can use them to find the most elaborate excuses for your health behaviors, or rather for the lack thereof. But he who is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. That's what Benjamin Franklin said. Are you good for something else? Make that something your health. And start today. Here!

Yang, Q., Cogswell, M., Flanders, W., Hong, Y., Zhang, Z., Loustalot, F., Gillespie, C., Merritt, R., & Hu, F. (2012). Trends in Cardiovascular Health Metrics and Associations With All-Cause and CVD Mortality Among US Adults JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 307 (12), 1273-1283 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2012.339 

 Newsom, J., Huguet, N., McCarthy, M., Ramage-Morin, P., Kaplan, M., Bernier, J., McFarland, B., & Oderkirk, J. (2011). Health Behavior Change Following Chronic Illness in Middle and Later Life The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 67B (3), 279-288 DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbr103
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