Forks, Fingers, and Feet

It has been awhile siEat Right, Move Morence my last blog. 12 months to be exact. One of the downsides of growing so quickly is that you don’t always have time to do things that are not essential for day to day functions of the practice.

I recently attended the world conference of the American Academy of Anti-Aging in Orlando. As always, I came away with a lot of information on some the most cutting edge topics in medicine as well as a renewed fear of just about everything I am exposed to on a daily basis that could eventually kill me. From BPAs and GMOs to mercury in my fillings and in the fish that I eat. You can literally come away from this meeting afraid that your own shadow might very well reach up and strangle you at any moment.

One of the better lectures I attended was given by David Katz MD, founder of The Yale medical school’s preventive medicine research center. In a conference full of the latest miracle supplements and treatments that might slow down the aging process or reduce disease, he offered hard research on the most important treatment of all, lifestyle change.

Some of the information he presented covered the most common causes of death in the US: smoking, what we eat, and failure to exercise. He took this information a bit farther to coin his big six causes in the mnemonic: forks, fingers, feet, sleep, stress love, meaning smoking (fingers), what we eat, exercise, in addition to getting proper sleep, controlling stress, and forging meaningful relationships in our lives. Essentially telling us that regardless of the supplements or medications we take, lifestyle trumps everything else we can do to try to reduce disease and increase our lifespan. A sentiment I frequently echo in my office. The research he presented suggests that lifestyle changes have the ability to reduce mortality of all diseases by 80%.

Although I discuss supplements, medications, hormones, and other treatment options when meeting with patients, the large majority of the time I spend with a new patient is on nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, and reducing toxicity.

In terms of diet, the simple fact remains that we simply don’t need as many calories as we age, we need less carbs, probably more protein, and definitely more antioxidants (vegetables and fruit) to combat the constantly growing assault of oxidative stress on our bodies from the environment we live in, the food that we eat, and the bad habits we have developed.

In terms of exercise, we simply need to participate in activities on most days that get our blood flowing, help us detox through sweating, and burn extra calories to help us maintain a healthy weight. For most of time, calories have been scarce and physical activity was unavoidable. It was called survival. If you didn’t forage for food and avoid predators, you weren’t going to make it. Now unfortunately, the reverse is true. Food is not only overabundant, but it is calorie dense and largely empty of nutritional value. Some of the foods we eat have become so genetically modified and full of toxins that they hardly qualify as food anymore. If you want a good scare, just google microwave popcorn along with tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). I promise you, you will never eat it again once you read about these chemicals and the health problems they are associated with. This is just one of many examples I could give you on the absolute nightmare that our food supply has become. The fact that our government allows, “an acceptable amount,” of certain toxins continues to astound me.

Smoking is the easy one here, I tell my patients that smoke that the single most important thing you can do for your health is to stop smoking, everything else is fluff if you continue to inhale the myriad of toxins found in cigarettes.

The next three topics, sleep stress love are sometimes not as straight forward. Most people know the importance of sleep. Poor sleep and high stress levels are a hallmark of American culture. I would go so far to say that poor sleep is epidemic if my practice is a microcosm of the rest of the country. Poor sleep and high stress levels have the ability to cause havoc in our systems, raising cortisol levels, reducing growth hormone production and making it difficult for our bodies to recover from the daily barrage of stress in our lives.

I’ve found that discussing stress reduction is one of the harder things to discuss with patients. We are wired in this country to continue to do more, be more, accomplish more and that comes at a price which is typically our health. We are a people that are running on empty most of the time. We are over stimulated, overstressed and have forgotten how to slow down and unplug. If you don’t believe me put yourself in this situation, you are driving to work and past the point where you can turn around when you realize that you forgot your smart phone. Most people would probably rather leave the house with out their shoes rather than be without the device that connects us to the world on a second by second basis.

My wife and I frequently try to catch up on work on the weekends but recently were invited to a good friend’s house for dinner on a night that we both planned to work for a couple hours. I am grateful that on that particular night, we put work aside and spent some time with friends. This is where the love part comes in.  My wife later articulated our choice in a very simple but profound way. “When I am on my death bed I am not going to wish I worked more and spent less time with good friends.” Surround yourself with people that inspire, challenge and love you, and take the time to do the same for them.

Steve Jobs, an obvious innovator, was a master orator who could ignite a room with his vision and unwavering belief. His commencement speech at Stanford contains one of my favorite quotes.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

The quote from Steve Jobs can obviously be applied to many situations. My point in including it in this blog is that in the midst of our busy lives, don’t forget to slow down, foster meaningful relationships, and actually live your life. Eating clean, exercising your body, taking the right supplements and getting proper sleep are of supreme importance to your health and your quality of your life, but if you can’t hang out with friends and family and enjoy a cold beer and pizza once in awhile what is the point? Our time here is fleeting, and work will still be there on Monday.

Until next time, Stay healthy and live well…. Dr. Mike

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Dr. Michael Heim

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