Chances are you're not as concerned about your health as you should be. At the same time, sensational news consistently scares us into thinking everyday actions are killing us. When statistics tell you that eating certain foods, using certain products, or simply sitting down to work will destroy your body, it can feel like there's no escape. However, that's not true. Let's look at some of those daunting numbers, and consider just how easy it is to avoid becoming an unpleasant health statistic.
Staying healthy is ultimately a simple affair. The problem is that lifestyle changes over several decades have changed the way we operate, causing us to make unhealthy decisions without necessarily realising it. This has caused a lot of entirely preventable suffering over the course of our lives because we're not approaching our health in the right way. I spoke with my friend and medical student Yifan Xu, my lifelong dentist Dr Wendy Bach, and fitness expert Roger Lawson to find out the easiest ways to avoid some of the most statistically common health problems. The solutions are easier than you think, and in many cases will make your life a lot easier in the long run.
Note: While the tips in this article can help you make better choices about your health, it isn't a substitute for medical advice from a professional. Consult your doctor before making any significant lifestyle changes. Our bodies are all a little different, so it's always good to learn how your choices will affect you, specifically, before making them.
Diet: Big Issue, Easy Fix</
The Problem: Poor diet is a leading contributor to Australia's growing obesity rates, which in turn contribute to problems such as growing levels of diabetes. Even if you're not overweight, inadequate nutrition can cause all sorts of problems. How can we fix that?
The Solution: The most obvious is cooking at home, but many people will claim they lack the time or relevant skills. Medical student Yifan Xu suggests that you can fix this problem with a few minor social changes.
Her first suggestion is to start a cooking club with friends and co-workers. Chances are you have a decent relationship with a few people at work, so talk to them about making lunches together. If you can get five people together, each of you only needs to cook enough food for everyone once a week and you'll all have a healthier, homemade lunch at work every day. It takes about as much effort to cook for yourself as it does for five people, so you'll be cutting down your workload by 80 per cent in the long run. On top of that, you'll get to try new recipes and enjoy foods you may otherwise never experience. You can do the same with your friends and dinner. This way you get the social benefits of eating out and lessen the workload involved with eating in.
There will be times, of course, where you will need to cook for yourself. In these instances, don't worry about complex recipes. Yifan reminds us that cooking never used to be such a complex ordeal. For the most part, people would take a bunch of ingredients in their homes, make a stew, stir-fry or soup, and flavour it with a little salt and pepper. One of my favourite simple meals is just vegetable stir fry with tofu (which is a very meat-friendly option, too). A little salt, pepper, and garlic make it taste great and it takes about five minutes to put it together. I found it very easy to motivate myself to cook these simple meals by realising I get to eat much faster this way. Want more thoughts? Check out our detailed guide to improving your home cooking skills.
Our Sedentary Lifestyle: Everything Is Too Convenient</
The Problem: We've heard so much about how sitting is damaging our bodies and earning us an early death that it seems easier not to think about it anymore. Although a a standing desk is a great solution for some, it's a significant commitment that many of us don't want to make.
The Solution: All you really have to do is just move around regularly and incorporate a little physical activity every day. 30 minutes of walking around, doing gardening, or playing a sport for fun (rather than competition) is sufficient for your daily exercise. If you'd prefer to work a bit harder, there are effective exercise routines you can accomplish in 20 minutes. For an added bonus, fitness expert Roger Lawson suggests five minutes of simple mobility exercises in the morning and evening. These short routines will help keep you from stiffening up during the day as well as avoid back, leg, and other related problems in the future.
To get yourself moving around a bit more regularly, however, is most easily accomplished by inconveniencing yourself a little bit. For example, talk to people in the office rather than sending them an email or instant message. Drink out of a smaller glass so you'll have to get up and refill it up more often. Roger suggests that when you park your car, park farther away so you have to walk a bit more. Also, drinking plenty of water will help you go to the bathroom more often and force you to get up. If you want to play a video game, consider something like Dance Dance Revolution or Dance Central as those games are fun and offer quite a bit of physical activity. At first a few more inconveniences will be annoying, but after a while you'll get used to getting up to handle certain tasks.
Soft Drinks: Sweet, Acid, Consumed Wrong</
The Problem: Although dental care has made great strides over the past few decades, your teeth aren't safe from the harm you inflict upon them even if you brush and floss twice a day. Dr Wendy Bach told me that the most common problems she's seeing nowadays revolve around coffee and soft drinks. These things aren't just a problem because of the sugar, but because of how we consume them.
The Solution: Because we don't just gulp down enormous amounts of either coffee or soft drinks over the course of a few minutes, the sugars stick around in our saliva during the day. To get rid of the sugar, Wendy suggests keeping a glass of water nearby and alternating between it and the beverage. This way you'll wash the sugar out more effectively.
Too Much Medicine, Too Little Prevention</
The Problem: In the US, 74% of doctor visits result in drug therapy. Yifan believes this is due to our habit of visiting the doctor when something is wrong rather than bothering with preventative care. This leads to higher prescriptions of pain killers for immediate issues, as well as other drugs to solve problems that may not have occurred if patients hadn't waited until an issue presented itself.
The Solution: Yifan suggests that the simplest fix to making irregular doctor visits is to simply use your regular ones. Yearly checkups are often avoided nowadays, but taking part in this regular, preventative care is important. She also recommends that we put less emphasis on requesting drugs and ask our doctors what lifestyle changes would help us avoid the issues we're currently facing. There is most certainly a place for prescription medication, but it's a bad idea to think of it as your first choice. Schedule doctor visits in advance and make time to go for a checkup at least once per year. Life may be busy, but this is a very small and important commitment.