Dr. Joel Kahn: And the Number 1 Health Message of 2020 is . . .

December 25, 2020, 12:01 PM

The writer of twice-monthly health columns is a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms. He's an author who has appeared on "Dr. Oz" and "The Doctors Show." 

By Dr. Joel Kahn

Dr. Joel Kahn: "Healthy habits make a big difference."

Was 2020 an easy year for most? Was it a healthy year for most? Was it a low-stress year for most? The obvious answer is no.

We lost many, like Benny Napoleon; others were seriously ill but recovered. (I luckily had only a mild case of Covid-19.) And others suffered great financial strains.

Never has it been more obvious that a healthy lifestyle, strong mental health coping skills and effective self-care habits are critical to avoid chronic diseases like heart disease as well as providing a resistance to acute illnesses like Covid-19 and influenza.

The good news is that in 2020 scientists provided us a simple game plan of 5 steps to upgrade our health that are inexpensive and are done right at home.

What are these big 5 steps to a better 2021?

Researchers from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health conductive massive studies of over 120,000 participants drawn from medical health professionals and followed them for 28 years (men) and 34 years (women).  They collected data on diet, physical activity, weight, smoking and alcohol consumption to define the foundations of a healthy lifestyle.

These five areas have a large impact on avoiding premature disease and death:

1. Diet: a greater intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, and avoidance of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium.

2.  Physical activity: at least 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity daily.

3.  Weight defined as a normal body mass index (BMI), which is between 18.5 and 24.9.

4.   Avoidance of smoking

5.   Modest alcohol intake: one drink a day or less

Healthy habits make a big difference. People who practiced all five habits at age 50 enjoyed living 14 years longer for women and 12 years for men. 

Other studies in different parts of the world show the same findings, including a lower risk of heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and obesity. It is likely the same habits provide us a resistance to a risk of serious or lethal cases of Covid-19, too. This is a huge advantage that must be taught to all.

So what is our problem? Why have you not heard health officials, politicians and the media spreading this message of hope?

In the U.S. we tend to spend outlandishly on developing fancy drugs and other treatments for diseases, rather than on trying to prevent them. This is a big problem.

The best way to help people make healthy diet and lifestyle change is through public health efforts and policy changes.

Mandating healthy meals in schools hospitals and worksites, legislation sidewalks and bike paths, and providing incentives to quit smoking and maintaining an ideal body weight can move the needle rapidly towards health.  Expect pushback from industries that suffer while we get healthier.

We must shift our dollars from fast food, chips, and soda to fruits, vegetables, and legumes. We can look forward to a better 2021 by supporting efforts to implement effective and meaningful advances in a healthy lifestyle for all.

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