Staying Healthy

Maintaining good health doesn't happen by accident. It requires work, smart lifestyle choices, and the occasional checkup and test.

A healthy diet is rich in fiber, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, "good" or unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. These dietary components turn down inflammation, which can damage tissue, joints, artery walls, and organs. Going easy on processed foods is another element of healthy eating. Sweets, foods made with highly refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages can cause spikes in blood sugar that can lead to early hunger. High blood sugar is linked to the development of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even dementia.

The Mediterranean diet meets all of the criteria for good health, and there is convincing evidence that it is effective at warding off heart attack, stroke, and premature death. The diet is rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish; low in red meats or processed meats; and includes a moderate amount of cheese and wine.

Physical activity is also necessary for good health. It can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression, and falls. Physical activity improves sleep, endurance, and even sex. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week, such as brisk walking. Strength training, important for balance, bone health, controlling blood sugar, and mobility, is recommended 2-3 times per week.

Finding ways to reduce stress is another strategy that can help you stay healthy, given the connection between stress and a variety of disorders. There are many ways to bust stress. Try, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, playing on weekends, and taking vacations.

Finally, establish a good relationship with a primary care physician. If something happens to your health, a physician you know —and who knows you — is in the best position to help. He or she will also recommend tests to check for hidden cancer or other conditions.

Staying Healthy Articles

New thinking on saturated fat

The evolving understanding of the different types of fats in foods has changed the perception of saturated fat. Eaten in moderation, it is a useful part of the diet and is unlikely to affect cardiovascular health. More »

Living wills and health care proxies

Living wills generally cover procedures that might be performed when a person is incapacitated or at the end of life, including artificial nutrition (tube feeding), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and mechanical ventilation. Specifying a health care proxy or preparing a living will, or both, can help ensure that your wishes regarding medical treatment are followed in the event you are unable to express them yourself. More »

Taking aim at belly fat

Though the visceral fat that lies behind the abdominal wall makes up only a small percentage of the body's fat. A growing body of research indicates that this intra-abdominal or belly fat is linked to a number of medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, dementia, breast and colorectal cancer. More »

Strategies for cutting back on salt

The Institute of Medicine's newly released report, Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States, focuses on big-picture strategies for reining in America's salt habit. Although the report's recommendations represent an essential step forward, there are many things that individuals, chefs, and organizations can do right now to reduce sodium. Many of these guidelines offer a "stealth health" approach to sodium reduction — ways that sodium can be reduced with no change or minimal change to consumer food experiences or choices. Others suggest ways to rebalance and re-imagine food choices as well as introduce new foods that can easily translate into satisfying meals. More »

Too early to get up, too late to get back to sleep

Sleep-maintenance insomnia, the inability to remain asleep during the night, may be caused by health problems, depression, or stress. Research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides better long-term relief for insomnia. Maintaining good sleep habits and practicing relaxation techniques may also lead to a better night's sleep. More »

Clostridium difficile: An intestinal infection on the rise

A distressing number of patients acquire infections while they are in the hospital. And antibiotic therapy can actually increase the odds of coming down with a hospital-acquired infection, particularly when the cause is a bacterium named Clostridium difficile. Although doctors are working hard to control intestinal infections caused by the bug known as C. diff, the problem is rapidly becoming more common, more serious, and harder to treat. More »

Herd Immunity Animation

Herd Immunity START NEXT Screen 1 of 7 Did you know that vaccination not only protects you from disease but can also help protect people in your community who are not vaccinated. This phenomenon is known as 'herd immunity.' We'll explain what all these red and blue circles mean. Just click 'Next' to see a simple demonstration of how herd immunity works ... and how it can fail. Previous Replay In this demonstration, light blue circles represent healthy people who are not vaccinated. In pictures to come, dark blue circles will represent healthy people who get vaccinated, and red circles will be the people who become sick. Sick How disease spreads Unvaccinated Screen 2 of 7 Vaccinated Screen 3 of 7 How vaccination protects a community Vaccination protects against disease by stimulating the immune response against a specific germ. In this case, most of the people in one area -- the gray area in the center -- chose to be vaccinated. They're the dark blue circles. None of the other people outside the gray area got vaccinated: they're all light blue. The people in the gray area make up the herd community." Screen 4 of 7 Screen 5 of 7 As the infection spreads, the unvaccinated people in the herd community -- the community where a lot of people got vaccinated -- escape the infection because they are protected by the vaccinated people who surround them. But the people outside the herd community where no one got vaccinated, all get sick. Herd immunity works only to a point. In this situation, too few people in the herd community have been vaccinated to create the herd immunity effect. When herd immunity fails Screen 6 of 7 When disease strikes this time, those people in the gray area who are vaccinated are protected but there are not enough of them to protect people who are not vaccinated -- most of them get infected. Herd immunity has failed to occur. Screen 7 of 7 More »

Out in the cold

Winter can be tough on the body, with increased rates of respiratory diseases and cardiac events, but cold weather also helps stimulate the body's calorie-burning fat. Dutch researchers reported findings in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2009 that showed that moderately cool temperatures of 61? F activated brown fat in 23 of 24 study volunteers. No one is suggesting that cold weather be used for dieting purposes (not yet anyway). But when we get chilled this winter, we may take some consolation that at least we're firing up those brown fat cells. More »

MET-hour equivalents of various physical activities

In a study involving more than 83,000 participants in Harvard's Nurses' Health Study, researchers found a strong association between a high level of physical activity and a reduced risk for colon cancer. Researchers used a measure called metabolic equivalents, or METs, to assess physical activity levels. Women who reported 21 MET hours per week—equivalent to about seven hours per week of brisk walking—were half as likely to develop colon cancer as those who got only two MET hours per week (equivalent to walking slowly for one hour per week). The chart below lists the number of METs used per hour during various types of physical activities. For more information about METs and physical activity, go to Activity (Locked) More »