I recently had a bad dream where I was being chased by some obviously bad dudes and woke up in a cold sweat right before they were going to shoot me.
And though I know I’m much more likely to be shot in the United States than just about everywhere else in the world (a discussion for another time and place), less than 4% of U.S. deaths are caused by firearms. Overwhelmingly what kills us – and what we really need to be afraid of – is ourselves.
That’s because every day, we commonly do two things that say “Hey, Grim Reaper! Come and get me!” And what are those two things? We use tobacco and eat too much.
Just look at the top three causes of death in the United States:
- Heart Disease
- Respiratory Disease
Then look at their biggest risk factors: Tobacco and obesity (the last resulting from a combination of eating too much and not moving enough). Getting older is a big factor in dying of these diseases too, but unless you’ve found the Fountain of Youth, there’s not much you can do about that. However, here’s what you can do about tobacco and obesity.
Tobacco: First, the obvious: Don’t start. The tobacco companies have admitted to making their products addictive (which is why you’ve been seeing court-ordered ads from them admitting what they did), so why start using something you won’t be able to quit? And don’t think chewing tobacco, e-cigs, vaping, etc. are any better. Chewing tobacco gives you heart disease and cancer just like smoking, while e-cigs and vaping don’t have any long-term studies that show they are better, they still addict you to nicotine, and why would you trust or buy more products from Big Tobacco, who are taking over that industry? Also be sure to avoid second- and third-hand smoke.
If you’re already a tobacco user (i.e. Big Tobacco has already had their way with you), quit. I know it’s not easy, there are lots of people and ways to help you quit:
- Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-8=784-8669) to speak with a quit coach 24/7. They can help with cessation medications, counseling and more.
- Visit www.quitwithusla.org, which will connect you with lots of resources too.
- If you are Louisiana public hospital patient, employee or member of a community served by one of those hospitals, contact the Tobacco and Nicotine Control Initiative which can provide free or low-cost tobacco treatment services.
- If you started smoking before Sept. 1, 1988, you may be eligible for help through the Smoking Cessation Trust, a program funded by a class action lawsuit against some tobacco companies, and which can provide extensive help in quitting.
Obesity: Obesity or even being overweight is just as much a health risk as tobacco, with people often associating it with heart disease and diabetes, but not necessarily cancer, where those factors are a huge risk too.
And it’s not like people can just not eat or quit eating to fix the problem. Obesity spiked when food became abundant in our society, and food started being engineered (the “fat tastes good!” phenomena) and portions being increased to get us to eat/spend more. Couple that with the fact that we don’t move around as much as we did historically, and you’ve just added up a weight problem. Society is shoving food down our throats, so it’s not surprising that we eat it. (And believe me, as someone who could always lose about 10 pounds, I know what temptation food is!)
To change that, your main effort should be reducing the amount of food/calories you eat. Research is making it clear that to lose weight, you should mainly control your food intake and calories, as it’s extremely hard to exercise away weight. Exercise is what helps you to maintain a healthy weight and be healthier overall, with the good news there being even small changes or bursts of activity can help there. So to help in efforts to lose weight:
- Quit sugary drinks, which are the number one source of calories in the American diet and provide almost no nutritional value.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables than anything else. Eat less processed food.
- Eat smaller portions. Plates and bowls have gotten bigger over time, so don’t feel you need to fill them (Example: what once was an adult fast-food size in the 1950s is now a kid’s size serving). Also try things like eating half your entrée at the restaurant, splitting it or waiting the at-least 20 minutes your stomach needs to tell your brain that you are full.
- Pregnant woman need to eat healthy so their babies are healthy, plus research shows that genes that make people heavier can be triggered before birth.
- Moderate exercise – even in little chunks – helps make you healthy, as long as it adds up to about 30 minutes a day (or 15 minutes of intense exercise). So take the stairs whenever you can, walk your dog, park farther away. Just make it something you don’t really mind, or even better, enjoy (doing it with other people helps), so you keep it up.
One of the key things to success in any effort is making it a habit. So if you have a bad habit, change up the circumstances around it (e.g. don’t go to bars if you always have to have smoke with a drink or order one dessert for the table instead of just yourself). Also start your new habit on a Monday – research shows people are more successful then.
And, finally? Don’t give up if you slip up. Every step you make is a step forward. Forgive yourself and move on.
By Laura Ricks
LCP Communications Manager