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 Year's resolutions for health

Suggestions for healthier living include reducing stress, eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise, protecting against infectious diseases, maintaining a safe living environment, and getting regular medical care. More »

Putting clinicians in the kitchen could help spread the healthy eating message

The last time you saw a doctor for a checkup or other medical reason, she or he probably also asked about your health habits, such whether you smoke, take alcohol, exercise, or use sunscreen or seat belts. Such personal health behaviors have a huge impact on health and mortality, and public health guidelines urge clinicians talk to their patients about them. You probably were not asked what you ate for dinner last night, or what your usual breakfast fare is. But if some Harvard Medical School nutrition experts and their culinary partners have their way, such questions will become as routine as blood pressure checks, and doctors will be dispensing meal preparation advice as readily as they advise patients about the benefits of quitting smoking. Through a collaboration of the Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and other health care professionals can take a four-day crash course in the latest findings in nutrition research combined with hands-on classes in selecting and preparing healthy foods at the CIA's Greystone campus in California's Napa Valley (see photo below). Attendees listen to researchers talk about glycemic load, genes and food, and good fats and bad fats, and are instructed in the basics, such as how to use a chef's knife, stock the kitchen, and evaluate olive oil. The goal? Turn clinicians into ambassadors for change in the way American eats. "Many people eat too much and don't make the best choices as to what to eat," says Dr. David Eisenberg, director of the Osher Research Center at HMS, who came up with the idea for the HMS/CIA "Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives" program. It will take efforts on many fronts to improve the country's eating habits, but clinicians' offices are a good place to start. Studies have shown a link between physicians' health habits — like fat consumption, weight control, getting a flu shot, alcohol use, exercise, and smoking — and their likelihood of discussing these issues with their patients. Moreover, patients say that clinicians who talk about their own healthy habits are more believable. Eisenberg and his colleagues believe that clinicians who know how to shop for, prepare, and enjoy nutritious, appealing meals are more likely to counsel patients on their eating habits, and in practicing what they preach, become convincing role models. (Locked) More »

Preventing driving accidents involving teenagers

Teen drivers need experience behind the wheel to develop their skills, so instead of limiting driving time, parents should set limits on a teen's driving behavior, such as having a nighttime curfew and limiting the number of passengers. More »

Got an ear full? Here's some advice.

Earwax helps keep the ear canal clean, but if it dries out it can clump together and cause a blockage. A few drops of water held in the ear canal for a minute or so will usually dislodge the wax. More »

A Web-based way of tracking your physical activity level

If you want to keep tabs on your activity level and how many calories you're burning without buying a gadget, check out this government Web site: www.choosemyplate.gov It's run by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Why is the USDA in the exercise business? Because the department promulgates nutrition guidelines, and good nutrition necessarily involves energy balance, which means making sure that the amount of calories you're taking in should match the number you're burning — and be less if you are trying to lose weight. So although you can't eat physical activity, it's part of the USDA food pyramid. (Locked) More »

Time for more vitamin D

Vitamin D has been linked to a growing list of health benefits beyond bone strengthening, but many people, particularly seniors, have vitamin D deficiency. Because few foods are rich in the vitamin, taking a supplement is recommended. More »

Anxiety and physical illness

Persistent anxiety can contribute to respiratory disorders, gastrointestinal problems, and heart disease. Treating anxiety with psychotherapy, medications, or a combination can reduce or relieve physiological distress. More »

What to do about hemorrhoids

Many people experience the discomfort of hemorrhoids. Often they can be treated effectively with topical products and by eating more fiber. If they persist, surgical options are available. More »

When walking makes your legs hurt

There are other conditions besides arthritis that can make walking difficult and even painful, such as peripheral artery disease, chronic venous insufficiency, lumbar spinal stenosis, and diabetic neuropathy. More »