I must admit that I am proud that this is my 100th column in our Downey Patriot, and I've been thinking about how to appropriately celebrate this milestone. As my articles are, at their core, about leading a healthy and happy life, I decided to approach 100 of my patients with that very question: What do you believe is the secret to living a healthy, happy life?From the 100 responses, I heard several repeated themes. Quite a few were lighthearted and humorous, and most gave me the rewarding sense that my patients understand what it takes to succeed in the long term. I hope that sharing them here will help, inspire and guide you toward the same goal. Many comments focused on nutrition, and discussed eating right, the benefits of low-fat diets, and eating organic. One comprehensive response was "eat organic with all-natural foods and avoid hormones and food additives." We have discussed the concept of organic food in previous articles. They do impose a significant cost penalty on the consumer, and may not always offer more advantages than non-organic foods, but eating organic is likely beneficial. Avoiding hormones and food additives is also a worthwhile goal, and one that may make significant differences to our health, but can be difficult to achieve in practice. Interestingly, no one commented on achieving the proper weight; so let me add that being significantly over or under weight poses clear and obvious health risks. Another area of comments reflected on the need to exercise. Recommendations were as simple as "exercise" to specifically getting "30 minutes of exercise four days a week." My patients often ask me how much and which forms of exercise they should pursue. My best response is to do the exercise you are willing to keep up on a regular basis. If you are looking to start an exercise program, begin with 30 minutes of moderate exercise, where your breath is a little short and your pulse is a little fast, for a minimum of three to four days per week. Or, as this patient put it: "Eat right and exercise, and do all the things I'm not doing." Many comments focused on the avoidance of certain behaviors, especially cigarettes, drugs and excessive alcohol. I am sure you all know my position on this topic. There is no minimum acceptable amount of smoking. Recreational drugs, including marijuana, all pose some health risk. Alcohol consumed in moderation of no more than two drinks per day up to age 60, and no more than one drink per day for people over age 60 is probably acceptable, assuming that there are no other factors making alcohol harmful for you. Attitude was another popular topic. "Take nothing personally and make smart choices," "Don't let things get you down," "Be emotionally stable and if lucky find the right mate," "Communication and patience," "Be thankful for what you have and don't worry about what you don't have," "Take care of yourself and your health," "Keep learning," "Think positively," "Stay positive, grateful and thankful," "Try to be a good person, and accept people for who they are." I really liked these comments; they reflect that people understand that taking care of the psyche is necessary to good health. Many comments addressed spirit and religion. "You need to be healthy in spirit and mind," "Try to do the right thing. Be giving. Love God," "Belong to a church and get involved," "Faith, exercise, love, and sex," "Communicate with God frequently and pray." Plenty of studies have shown the value of prayer with regard to health. It is hard to argue against faith. Another category concerned marriage and relationships. A number of my male patients gave their wife credit for their good health, but interestingly, none of my female patients attributed their good fortune to their male counterparts! I heard from my male patients: "Be emotionally stable and find the right mate," "Take care of yourself and your health and have a long and loving marriage," "Have a long-term marriage with a good wife," and finally: "Get along with your girlfriend and have sex." You may be aware that controlled studies have shown that married men live longer than never-married men or widowed men. While that gap is closing over time, it still holds true. Married women do not enjoy such a health "bump" from marriage - perhaps they already know how to take care of themselves without the men in their lives? Finally, many comments referred to the need for a good doctor. "Listen to what your doctor tells you," "Have a good internal medicine doctor," "See your doctor at least annually." Naturally, I was happy to hear this; it's important to surround yourself with a team to help you achieve good health. Included in that team is a personal physician, to help guide you on your lifetime journey toward health and happiness. Some might also include, at some point, a nutritionist, teachers, religious figures, physical therapist or chiropractor, trainer, yoga teacher, and most especially, friends and a loving family. It is always useful for me to check in with my individual patients periodically to see what they perceive as the important issues for their health and happiness. You can generate your own ideas of what is necessary for your journey. Make a list, and then make a plan. I wish you all good health! I hope that you have enjoyed my first 100 columns, because it has truly been a pleasure to write them. Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: January 27, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 41