In recent weeks, my focus has been on modern medical practices in America. What I haven't mentioned is it's a field dominated by chronic and complex diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's. They account for roughly three-quarters of our current health care spending while lacking a clear link to a cause and cure. Today, no drug has proved to be completely safe and effective against Alzheimer's or in combating obesity — diseases that, to a large extent, have been shown to be preventable, or slowed, or even reversed through lifestyle change.
Alternate medical practices that focus on unleashing the body's ability to heal itself have been slowly working their way into mainstream medical care. Today, wellness programs designed to ease stress and encourage healthy behaviors abound and are being seen by many clinicians and medical institutions as an important tool in slowing the growing epidemic of chronic disease.
But we don't have to wait for these diseases to take hold and then try to manage them with drugs or even alternate treatments. We can instead make a commitment to focus on lowering the risk of these diseases before they take hold in the first place. If you are a smoker, stop. You've just taken one huge step in protecting your health. Next, improve your diet, exercise or move more, and take measures to reduce your stress. If you do these things you will have gone a long way in protecting and restoring good health.
People who follow healthy diets tend to lead longer, healthier lives. Supporting this idea is a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that looked at 74,000 adults over a 12-year period. Those people who added in wholesome foods over time improved their chances of living longer. These improved chances of living longer were achieved even if participants didn't necessarily commit to making over their entire way of eating. According to the study, adding in any amount of healthy foods can help lower the risk of early death.
Improving diet by just 20 percent was linked to a 8-17 percent lower risk of premature death. In contrast, worsening diet quality was linked to a 6 to 12 percent increase in the risk of death. Improvements to diet included consuming more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish. They also include eating less red and processed meats and drinking sugary beverages.
"Our results highlight the long-term health benefits of improving diet quality with an emphasis on overall dietary patterns rather than on individual foods or nutrients," Frank Hu, professor and chair of the Harvard Chan School Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study told CBS News. "A healthy eating pattern can be adopted according to individuals' food and cultural preferences and health conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all diet."
For optimal health, we also need to move. As headlines over the past two years have reminded us, sitting is the new smoking. It can be toxic to our health. What we are learning about working out is that if you don't receive a spark of joy from the workout, you'll stop doing it. People rarely exercise if they do not enjoy it. We also know that most of us spend much of our life indoors. Spending time in nature is good for our health. I've written about this subject in the past. Most of the history of our species was spent in environments that lacked buildings and walls. Our bodies are essentially wired to live in the natural world.
The take away from this is that a walk in the woods or paths near home, especially a vigorous walk, could provide the mental boost we need to keep us moving.
The practice developed by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture in the early 1990s called forest bathing is now beginning to catch on in this country. According to the Associations of Nature & Forest Therapy, they are in the process of training and certifying 250 new guides for the coming year. Health care providers are now being encouraged to incorporate forest therapy as a stress-reduction strategy.
The aim of forest bathing is to slow down and become immersed in the experience. To take the time to tune into the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. Some research suggests that trees release compounds into the forest air that are beneficial to humans. In 2009, Japanese scientists published a small study that found inhaling these tree-derived compounds (known as phytoncides) produced reduced concentrations of stress hormones in men and women. The experience also enhanced the activity of white-blood cells essential for good health and protection against illness and disease.
Another study found inhalation of cedar wood oils led to a small reduction in blood pressure. This is significant when you consider that a 2015 study found work-related stress accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs each year in this country.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.