IT'S NEVER TOO LATE -
YOU CAN REVERSE A LIFETIME OF
Behind most of the bad things
we do to our bodies as adults -
eat more than we should, not
exercise and fret a lot - are two
ideas we carry with us from
childhood. On the one hand, we
assume that we are indestructible.
On the other, we think that any
damage we inflict on ourselves
can be undone when we finally
clean up our act.
If the evidence for how wrong the first idea is isn't apparent
when you stand in front of the mirror, just wait. But what if you eat
right, get into shape and drop all your bad habits? Is there still time
to repair the damage?
To a surprising degree, the answer is yes. Over the past few years,
scientists have accumulated a wealth of data about what happens when aging
slackers decide to turn their lives around. The heartening conclusion :
the body has an amazing ability to heal itself, provided the damage is
not too great.
The effects of some bad habits - smoking, in particular - can haunt
you for decades. But the damage from other habits - especially those that
affect the circulatory system - can be largely offset. Any time you improve
your behaviour and make a difference from that point on. Maybe not right away.
It's like slamming on the brakes. You do need a certain skid distance.
But the skid distance can be remarkably short. Consider these recent
dispatches from the front lines of medical research :
- Women who consume as little as two servings of fish a week cut their risk of suffering a thrombotic stroke to half that of women who eat less than one serving of fish a month. Fish contains omega-3 essential fatty acids. It increases good cholesterol.
- Laboratory measurements show that eating more fruits, vegetables and fibre can lower blood pressure and thus reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Hitherto sedentary 40-year-old women who start walking briskly for half an hour a day, four days a week enjoy almost the same low risk of heart attack as women who have exercised their entire lives. The day you quit smoking, the carbon monoxide levels in your body drop dramatically. Within weeks, your blood becomes less sticky and your risk from dying from a heart attack starts to decline. Adopting healthy habits won't cure all that ails you, of course. But doctors believe that many chronic diseases - from diabetes and high blood pressure to heart disease and even some cancers - can be warded off with a few sensible changes in lifestyle.
Not sure where to start? Surprisingly, it doesn't matter, since one positive
change usually leads to another. Make enough changes, and you'll discover you've
adopted a new way of life. It won't make you invincible or doctors unnecessary, and
you can't wait forever. But you'll never know how much damage you can undo if you
don't try. It's never too late to :
- 1. Eat Right. The most immediate benefit from adopting a healthy diet is that it can lower blood pressure. For people with hypertension, the low-sodium diet - which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and high-fibre grains-can reduce blood pressure as effectively as taking an anti-hypertension drug. In addition, the extra calcium in diet could help reduce the risk of Osteoporosis. The fibre in the fruits, vegetables and grains can help control blood glucose levels in many Type 2 diabetics and even lower their need for medication. Diet may help diminish the risk of some types of cancer. Include fish in your diet. It increases good cholesterol and also has non-carcinogenic properties.
- 2. Get Fit. Weight training increases strength, helps restore bone density and diminishes knee pain from arthritis. That doesn't mean you can ignore aerobics activity. Even a brisk half hour walk three times a week does some good. Practically from the moment your heart starts pounding harder, your blood vessels become more flexible, lowering blood pressure. For 18 to 24 hours after you exercise, your body becomes more sensitive to the insulin it produces, reducing your risk of diabetes. If everybody exercised a few hours a week, Type 2 diabetes would be greatly reduced.
- 3. Watch Your Weight. Being 14 kilos or more overweight dramatically increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, gall bladder disorders and arthritis. The most effective strategies for losing weight and keeping it off consist of cutting back on calories while boosting physical activity.
- 4. Quit Smoking. It is harder to undo the damage to the lungs from smoking than even many doctors realize. Quitters 30 years out still get lung cancer. But their risk, is substantially lower than it would be had they continued to smoke. Blood vessels and coronary tissue respond almost immediately when a smoker quits-even those smokers who are 60 or 70 years old. Within 2 years the risk of suddenly dying from a heart attack drops 50 percent.
- 5. Take It Easy. Doctors have studied meditation, prayer and anger-management programs since the 1960s, research into the effects of the mind on the body still has a long way to go. Studies have shown that heart patients who learn how to control their anger are less likely to suffer from angina. The message is clear : if you want to improve your health, you need to make changes in your routine. But if you're ready to turn your life around, the payoff can be huge.