January 29, 2009


You can reverse a lifetime of bad habits

By Christine Gorman

Behind most of the bad thing we do to our bodies as adults - overeat, exercise too little and fret a lot - are two ideas we carry with us from childhood. On one hand, we assume we are indestructible . In the other, we think that any damage we inflict on our selves can be undone when we finally clean up our act.

If the evidence for how wrong the first idea is isn't apparent when you stand naked in front of the mirror, just wait. But what if you eat right, get into shape and drop all your bad habit? Is there still time to repair the damage?

To surprising degree, the answer is yes. Over the past five years,scientists have accumulated a wealth of data about what happens when ageing slackers decide to turn their lives round. The heartening conclusion: the body has an amazing ability to heal itself, provided the damage is not too great.

The effects of some bad habits- smoking, in particular- can haunt you for decades. But the damage from other habits - especially those that affect the circulatory system- can be largely offset. "any time you improve your behaviour and make lifestyle changes, they make a difference from that point on," says Dr Jeffrey Koplan, director of US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. "Maybe not right away. It's like slamming on the brakes. You do need a certain skid distance."

But the skid distance can be remarkably short. Consider these recent dispatches from the front lines of medical research:

  • A study in the January 2001 Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that women who consume as little as two serving of fish a week cut their risk of suffering a thrombotic stroke to half that of women who eat less than one serving of fish a month.
  • Laboratory measurements show that eating more fruit, vegetables and fibre can lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Scientists have found that sedentary 40 year old women who start walking briskly for 30 minutes a day, four days a week, enjoy almost the same low risk of heart attack as women who have exercised their entire lives.
  • The day you quit smoking , the carbon monoxide levels in your body drop dramatically. Within weeks, your blood becomes less sticky and the risk of a fatal heart attack starts declining.
  • Adopting healthy habits won't cure all that ails you,of course.But doctors believe that many chronic diseases from diabetes and high blood pressure to heart disease and even some cancers -can be warded off with a few sensible changes in lifestyle.
    Not sure where to start? Surprisingly, it doesn't matter ,since one positive change usually leads to another .Becoming more active physically,for example , inspires many people to eat a healthier diet.Make enough changes ,and you'll discover you've adopted a new way of life.It won't make you invincible or doctors unnecessary,and you can't wait for ever. But you'll never know how much damage you can undo if you don't try .It's never too late to:

Eat Right. The most immediate benefit from adopting a healthy diet is that it can lower blood pressure. For people with hypertension,the low -sodium version of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet -which emphasises fruit,vegetables,low-fat dairy and high-fibre grains - can reduce blood pressure as effectively as taking an antihypertensions drug.

In addition,the extra calcium in the DASH diet could help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.The fibre in the fruit, vegetables and grains can help control blood glucose levels in many Type 2 diabetics and even lower their need for medication. Over the long term,DASH may help diminish the risk of some types of cancer."It's a diet for all diseases," says Dr Lawrence Appel,a researcher at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore.

Get Fit. Among the surprising findings of the past decade is that weight training can reverse some effects of ageing. It increases strength,helps restore bone density and diminishes knee pain from arthritis.

That doesn't mean you can ignore aerobic activity. Even a brisk half-hour walk three times a week does some good.Practically from the moment your heart starts pounding harder,your blood vessels become more flexible,lowering blood pressure.

For 18 to 24 hours after exercise,your body becomes more sensitive to the insulin it produces, reducing your risk of diabetes."If everyone exercised a few hours a week,Type 2 diabetes would be greatly reduced ," says Ken Goodrick, associate professor at Baylor college of medicine in Houston.

Watch Your Weight. Being 14 kilos or more overweight dramatically increases your risk of heart disease,diabetes,gallbladder disorders and arthritis.The most effective strategies for losing weight and keeping it off,according to a 1997 study of adults who had dropped at least 14 kilos for more than five years,consist of cutting back on kilojoules while boosting physical activity.

Can't imagine losing 14 kilos? current research shows that many overweight folks who shed as few as five kilos can lower their blood pressure and,in some cases , reduce their risk of diabetes.

Quit Smoking.long-term studies now indicate that it is harder to undo the damage to the lungs from smoking than even many doctors realise."Quitters 30 years out still get lung cancer ,"notes Dr Eva Szabo of the National Cancer Institute.But their risk , she adds, is substantially lower than it would be had they continued to smoke.

Fortunately,the circulatory system is more resilient.Doctors have learned that blood vessels and coronary tissue respond almost immediately when a smoker quits - even those smokers who are 60 or 70 years old.Within two years the risk of suddenly dying from a heart attack drops 50 per cent.

Take It Easy. Although doctors have studied mediation, prayer and anger-management programmes since the 1960s, research into the effects of the mind on the body still has a way to go.A study led by James Blumenthal at Duke University has shown that heart patients who learn how to control their anger are less likely to suffer from ischemia,a sometimes painful condition in which the cardiac muscle is starved for oxygen.

THE MESSAGE IS CLEAR: if you want to improve your health,you need to makes changes in your routine. But if you're ready to turn your life around, the payoff can be huge.

source : Reader's Digest (october 2001)

No comments: