Science has long acknowledged that we are not all the same in the way we respond to a wide variety of things from diet to exercise to medicine. In the same vein, health risks do not affect everybody the same. Science often can tell us what diseases we are predisposed to get, but not necessarily how to forestall them or when its onset will occur (or if it will develop at all). When science offers few answers, where do we turn to ward off the risk factors of disease?
It makes sense that we start with those things that are within our control; to start by examining and changing, where necessary, our lifestyle. A diet high in cholesterol, fat and sugar can have a negative impact on health; cutting down on carbohydrates and boosting our intake of vegetables and protein a positive one. Healthy foods and nutrients work together and provide health benefits. The same can be said for getting a good night's sleep.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, getting less than the recommended amount of sleep each night on a regular basis raises your risk of dying. Depending on our age, we are supposed to get anywhere from seven to 10 hours of sleep each night. Yet one in three Americans does not get enough sleep, and 45 percent of the world's population does not either.
A 2007 study found that those who reduced their sleep from seven to five hours or less a night are about twice as likely to die from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease. Deep sleep, the kind that comes only after a full sleep cycle, is necessary for the body to release hormones designed to repair cells and build tissue in the body and brain. As we age, our chances of developing a major disease or medical condition becomes much higher if we do not get enough sleep.
The need for deep sleep is especially important for children and teens. According to a poll conducted by Sleep in America, although preteens and teens need the most sleep of any age group — at least nine hours a night — they are the least likely to get enough rest. More than 90 percent of high school students in this country are chronically sleep-deprived. An estimated 20 percent get fewer than five hours a night. Even if they seem fine, the effects of sleep deprivation could be planting a seed for debilitating disease that might manifest later in life. When their immune system takes a hit due to lack of sleep it also makes them more vulnerable to colds, flu and all sort of viruses and other infectious diseases.
Science has linked poor sleeping habits with high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, weight gain, a lack of libido, mood swings, paranoia, depression and a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, dementia as well as some cancers. A lack of sleep affects a person's ability to pay attention, learn new things, be creative, solve problems and make decisions.
A study by RAND Europe found that the United States loses an estimated $411 billion each year from workers who sleep fewer than six hours a night. This equates to about 2.28 percent of the country's gross domestic product. As reported by CNN, if those same people added an hour of sleep time a night it could result in an added $226.4 billion back into the economy.
An estimated 100,000 accidents reported annually to police are attributed to drowsy drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, these drivers account for an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses a year.
The only good news in all of this is that you can do something about your sleep deficit by simple modifying your behavior.
And what if you should learn through genetic testing that you carry a form of gene that substantially increases your risk of developing Alzheimer's? As discussed last week, it is currently a disease with no good treatment, and no good prevention strategy. Until better treatments are found, you will have to devise your own tactics for keeping your brains healthy. That is where low-cost lifestyle changes can come into play.
During sleep, your body is literally repairing and restoring itself on a cellular level. Know that there is a known link between the quality of sleep and the risk of dementia. A new study in the journal Neurology finds that older people who get less of this deep, dream-stage sleep, may increase their risk for developing dementia. In addition, an important new study has conclusively linked diet and Alzheimer's disease, providing even more evidence that you can protect your brain by watching what you eat. A diet high in cholesterol, fat and sugar is suspected to influence the development of Alzheimer's disease.
Barbara Bendlin of the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center recently told CNN that delaying the onset of Alzheimer's in those at risk by a mere five years could reduce case load in the next 30 years by 5.7 million and save $367 billion in health care spending. This is a goal we should all get behind; along with finding a cure.
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.