How to Assess Your Lifestyle
You are free to live your life in the style you choose. You can eat
what you want, drink what you like, live where you want to live, work
wherever they'll hire you. (After all, the pursuit of happiness is the
American way.) However, although your lifestyle choices may not affect
anyone else, you may (consciously or unconsciously) be writing the
conclusion to your own life.
Many life-threatening diseases --
including heart disease, emphysema, stroke, and certain forms of cancer
-- are linked to lifestyle factors. In other words, these illnesses are
partly caused by poor eating habits, tobacco use, a lack of physical
activity, and so on.
These diseases are largely preventable. You
play a large role in reducing your risk of developing them. If you
really want to keep tabs on your health, start by taking stock of your
lifestyle. Are any of the following habits part of your routine?
Perhaps the most damaging lifestyle choice you can make is to smoke
cigarettes. Smoking is the most preventable cause of illness and death
in the United States.
Aside from commonly known health
repercussions of smoking (lung cancer, emphysema, and other respiratory
diseases), cigarette smoking or second-hand smoke has also been
implicated in skin cancer, ulcers, bronchitis, sudden infant death
syndrome, ear infections, and strokes.
Smoking also affects your
health in more indirect ways. For example, heavy smokers often have a
hard time breathing deeply. For this reason, they may engage in less
physical activity. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to other problems,
including osteoporosis, obesity, low energy, and an impaired immune
Of the 4,000 or so chemicals in tobacco smoke, 200 are
known to be poisonous to human beings. Carbon monoxide, tar, and
nicotine are the three most dangerous. Carbon monoxide decreases the
amount of oxygen that your red blood cells can carry. Tar coats and
clogs up the lungs and carries known carcinogens. Nicotine -- the
addictive agent in cigarette smoke -- affects the cardiovascular and
Alcohol abuse. The most popular
and accepted drug in America is alcohol. Its abuse can affect almost
every system in the body. As a result, heavy drinkers often begin a
gradual downward cycle, in which their bodies begin to degenerate
The liver, of course, is most vulnerable to the effects
of alcohol. Cirrhosis -- or chronic inflammation -- of the liver occurs
in about 20 percent of all heavy drinkers. Heavy drinking is also
thought to contribute to high blood pressure, which is a leading risk
factor for strokes. Other possible physical manifestations of alcohol
abuse include trembling hands, chronic gastrointestinal problems, and
Heavy drinking and alcoholism can also take a toll
on your emotional health and your relationships. Many people, when
drunk, become physically or verbally abusive and are not in control of
Alcoholism is an illness. In fact, like heart
disease or diabetes, alcoholism tends to run in families. For this
reason, if your mother, father, grandparents, or aunts and uncles
suffered from alcoholism, it would be wise for you to be very prudent
about your own drinking.
How much drinking is considered "heavy"?
Since everyone has a different tolerance to the effects of alcohol,
there is no real answer to this question. In general, it is advised that
males have no more than two drinks per day and females and persons over
age 65 have no more than one drink per day.
Risky sexual behavior.
It's gotten enough publicity that you're probably aware of it, but it
never hurts to restate the obvious: Having unprotected sex with an
individual who carries a sexually transmitted infection or disease (such
as hepatitis B or HIV) can be fatal.
What is unprotected sex?
Sexual or genital-to-genital contact without a latex or polyurethane
condom or barrier, such as a dental dam. This includes traditional
sexual intercourse, anal intercourse, oral contact with the sexual
organs or anus, or any activity that brings an individual in contact
with an open sore or lesion (such as a genital wart or cold sore).
do you know if you're with an infected individual? Frankly, you don't.
Viruses and other organisms that cause sexually transmitted infections
are not selective, and anyone who has had sex can be infected. In other
words, moral convictions and personal habits aside, the only way to know
if you have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection is to get
tested. Early detection will allow you to get early treatment. Also,
early detection will help you protect those you love.
Your activity level. Regular exercise confers many health benefits:
- Building lean body mass (which helps prevent obesity)
- Preserving bone density (which helps stave off osteoporosis)
the ratio of "bad" low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) to "good"
high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) in the blood (which can help
prevent heart disease)
- Reducing blood pressure
- Reducing resting heart rate
- Increasing energy and vigor
- Improving sleep
- Alleviating mild stress or depression
much exercise do you need to stay healthy? In general, you should
engage in at least 30 minutes of a moderately intense physical activity,
such as a brisk walk, on most days of the week. To help manage weight
and prevent gradual, unhealthy weight gain in adulthood, the Dietary
Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommends 60 minutes of moderately to
vigorously intense physical activity while not exceeding your caloric
Your diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 offer the following recommendations:
a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within and among the
basic food groups while choosing foods that limit the intake of
saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol.
your balance between the calories you get from foods and beverages and
the calories you expend each day. Meet recommended intakes within energy
needs by adopting a balanced eating plan, such as a custom one for you
from MyPyramid.gov -- Steps to a Healthier You or the DASH Eating Plan.
For more information about eating plans, visit www.mypyramid.gov.
a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. Select from all five
vegetable subgroups (dark green, orange, legumes, starchy vegetables,
and other vegetables) several times a week.
- Eat three or more ounce-equivalents of whole-grain products per day.
- When selecting and preparing meat, poultry, and dry beans, make choices that are lean, low fat, or fat free.
- Consume about three cups of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products per day.
total fat intake between 20 and 35 percent of calories, with most fats
coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids,
such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
- Moderate your intake of salt, sugar, and processed foods.
are many things you can do, and many more things you can avoid, to keep
yourself in tip-top health. Vist the links below for more information.
- A good way to spot early warning signs and potential problems is to perform regular self diagnostics. Learn more in How to Administer Self-Exams.
- Secondhand smoke can be hazardous to your health. To learn about the risks, visit How Secondhand Smoke Works.
- Excessive alcohol intake can cause liver damage, ulcers, high blood pressure, and other long-term ailments. Learn more in How Alcohol Works.
information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO
PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R),
Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take
responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment,
procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of
medication which results from reading or following the information
contained in this information. The publication of this information does
not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not
replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider.
Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the
advice of their physician or other health care provider.