How to Prevent Illness and Stay Healthy

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So, what can we do as individuals to receive the benefits of prevention? Five key areas will help us live longer and healthier lives.

• Be physically active. While current recommendations call for 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or seventy-five minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity), we tend to think of this only in terms of exercise like jogging, biking, or swimming. What about mowing the lawn with a push mower rather than a riding lawn mower? Park at the far end of the parking lot rather than vying for the spot closest to the door. And, yes, you can take the stairs up to the second floor rather than riding the elevator.

• Achieve good nutrition. Eating well can be both enjoyable and affordable, but it requires a level of thoughtfulness about foods of all types. I recall the years my mother spent in Weight Watchers. I was always struck by the amount of food in her diet plan. It was the best evidence for me that what we eat is much more important than how much we eat. Also, when I lived in Pakistan, I had very little access to processed foods. I ate three (sometimes four) meals a day and had no problems maintaining a healthy weight. On my return to the US, where processed, calorie-dense foods are everywhere, I gained fifteen pounds in two months, despite an increase in physical activity. Again…be mindful about what you eat.

• Keep tobacco-free. This is the number one most important preventable cause of early disease and death. Model this good behavior for family, friends and co-workers. If you currently use tobacco, make an effort to quit. Just twenty minutes after a person quits smoking, their health begins to improve.

• Keep up with clinical prevention. Stay up to date on immunizations, screening exams for specific types of cancer (e.g., colorectal cancer screening for men and women, and breast and cervical cancer screening for women), and screening blood tests for conditions such as diabetes and HIV.

• Be a Pythagorean. Although we usually think of Pythagoras only as a mathematician (remember a2+b2=c2?), those who followed this Greek philosopher in ancient times did so because of his emphasis on harmony and balance being the principle that determines the order of the cosmos. So pursue harmony and balance in life—
between work and play, between rest (sleep is important!) and activity, across the spectrum of mind, body, and spirit.

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