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 view of heart disease in women

A landmark study found that women are susceptible to a different type of heart disease called microvascular dysfunction. It affects both larger and smaller blood vessels, but is not detected by the standard cardiac tests. More »

Lung cancer: Not just for smokers

A small but significant percentage of lung cancer deaths occur in nonsmokers. Research suggests that they may get a different form of the disease than do smokers, one that may respond better to certain medications. More »

Why not flaxseed oil?

While flaxseed oil may seem like a good way to get beneficial omega-3 fats, its healthful effects are not as powerful as they appear. Eating fish is still the best way to get omega-3s. More »

A breathtaking experience

If a person who is choking is still able to speak, their airway does not have a significant obstruction, so the Heimlich maneuver should not be performed. More »

Our balancing act

As we get older, our balance tends to diminish. Exercise, in addition to its many other benefits, can help regain or maintain balance and control. (Locked) More »

Aerobic Fitness Test: The Step Method

To help assess your aerobic fitness, here is a minimum standard: See if you can walk up five flights of stairs at your own pace without stopping, using the railing only for balance. The test may seem too simple to be useful, but in the days before sophisticated exercise tests were widely available, thoracic surgeons used this very test to see if their patients were fit enough to undergo lung operations. In modern terms, people who pass the five-flight test have maximum oxygen uptake values of at least 20. That level will get you through surgery and daily life, but healthy people should use exercise to build up to levels two or even three times higher. It is unlikely that a health club would ask you to use the stairwell for self-assessment, but it might well use a single 12-inch step or bench to evaluate your fitness. With just a little help, you can do it yourself. Ask someone to time you and count for you so you can concentrate on the task at hand (or foot!). At the signal to begin, step up with your right foot, then bring your left foot up beside it. Follow the "up, up" with "down, down" to complete one step. Repeat at a rate of 24 steps per minute for three consecutive minutes. Then rest in a chair for exactly one minute before taking your pulse. Finally, use the YMCA standards (see table below) to see how you stack up. The step test can be quite demanding; if you have been diagnosed with heart disease, if you suspect you may have heart disease, or if you have major risk factors, ask your doctor about a formal stress test instead of taking the step test. And if you are out of shape or think the test may be hard for you, take a one-minute pretest to see how you fare. More »

No coughing matter

Experts say many over-the-counter cough medicines are ineffective, and that those suffering from a cold-related cough should take an antihistamine with a nasal decongestant. More »