Specific Common Sense Health Tips
There are many health tips out there, but I've been reading some lists lately and there are a few that are agreed by everyone, and some that I think are important, but missing. People get plenty of tips for what to do to prevent specific illness, but what about overall health? What's your roadmap? How does a person create a roadmap for staying healthy? How do we maximize quality of life during our brief time on Mother Earth? Today's post tries to address these questions.
Let's review the existing collections of tips. Google has surprisingly few results in this area. I'll mention the top 2 results relevant to this topic and then add a gem that I found which can be adapted without much work.
- A gem that can be adapted: http://www.bestofcareinc.com/common-sense-tips-for-family-caregivers/
I thought about not even mentioning this because it can be very disquieting and can derail this post. But it's an important part of long term health. And most of the stuff out there about "living will" and "medical directives" is a lot of scare talk and not very much human talk. So here's my take on it, and feel free to skip down to the tips if the subject bothers you too much.
As someone who daily worries that I will end up in a hospital without the supplements that help me think straight on an average day, this is really important to me. Without at minimum, a multivitamin/mineral, and a lot of supplemental vitamin C, my attention is not something that's equal to life changing decisions, like surgery. That's part of my illness, and may not be applicable to everyone, but an accident can land anyone in a situation where others have to make tough decisions for them. Just once, talk about that with a loved one. Do it today.
Let me suggest something to say: "Just for a minute, I want to talk to you about something serious. I know things may happen that force you into a position where you have to decide whether, for example, to unplug me from a ventilator. In such a situation my default wish is (what you wish). But I also respect that it will be a situation nobody can prepare for, and I want you to know that I trust you to make the best decision for me." Obviously you only say this to someone you do trust. Consider putting it in writing, although I've had a hard time doing that, so don't rake yourself over coals if you can't do it either. We're all doing our best.
When talking of health and quality of life, the elderly are often mentioned. So I'll follow suit. Here's what I've learned from caregiving and from the elderly people I've known during volunteering at Senior Centers. The ones who are sharpest and most healthy walk every day, usually in the morning, and will accept any offer to go for a walk.
They eat small amounts often instead of large meals, I'm guessing because digestive power tends to decline with age. One thing I haven't noticed, in healthy elderly people, is drinking water. I don't see them walking around with a bottle of water forever by their side like today's adults do. Still, I feel better when I drink more water, so I'm content to leave that as a mystery.
People usually misjudge the elderly in their capacity. Even my mother who had her hip replaced and learned to walk again while fighting cancer, while she was in bed, managed to exercise three times a week and never skipped it. She was steely about sticking to a routine of movement. The next story should illustrate that being elderly doesn't have to equal being helpless, or missing out on activity.
I knew a woman who participated in aerobics classes well into her 90s and walked to the store once a week, carrying shopping home with her. This was true even in the winter, when she would apply crampons to her shoes so she wouldn't potentially slip on the icy sidewalk. Before I risk misleading you with an inaccurate image, she wasn't poor or a minority. She had a standard by which she lived and it was a high standard.
She ate every 2 hours, very small amounts like a yogurt, or a tiny sliver of meat with salad, or half of a sandwich. I used to help her with her computer, which she managed to learn very well, although she began to learn about it very late in life. Her home was impeccably clean, she'd even send her wool rugs out to the cleaners twice a year like clockwork and believed that wall to wall synthetic carpet wasn't healthy because she couldn't clean it properly and the fibers weren't good to breathe. She had a very strong effect on what I consider "healthy."
So what are the things that are most likely to lead to a healthy old age? Here's my list. Many of the items will require you to do your own research and decide whether you believe me or not. That's OK, I'd rather you did that, than accept what I say at face value. I'm a "teach a person to fish" type.
1. Eat your greens and your reds.
I don't care how you do it, but do it, and do it every single day. Green smoothie? Spinach quiche? Creamed spinach with garlic? Kale and cashew cream dip? Massaged kale? Collards? Big salads? Red bell pepper? Roasted beets? Carrot halwa?
I think we should stop saying "eat vegetables" and then lump the greens in with the vegetables. Red vegetables are special because they contain beta carotene (that includes butternut squash, which is orange by the way). But when I say eat your greens, I mean, that's a category like "grains" or "the dairy group" on the old Food Pyramid. Greens, reds, and vegetables are three different things. Eat some of each, every day, especially greens.
Notice I didn't say "eat healthy" but gave specifics. I'll continue that way, and stick my neck out because I'm tired of vague advice and I think you probably are too.
2. Eat at least 30% of your calories from fat.
Yeah, this one is a big mess as far as advice goes. But even the mainstream website, Healthline warns against ultra low fat diets, and the reality is, while a "plant based" diet sounds good when you say it, it can lead to far too little fat in your diet. And that's a problem because your body needs fat to repair itself. Every cell in your body is surrounded by a cell membrane that is made of fat, and your brain is mostly made of fat too. So don't starve yourself of fat.
Try to navigate this one with care because a lot of advice out there is meant to drive you to buy packaged food marked "low fat." Make sure the fat you eat is "healthy fat" but, this too, is controversial. Partial hydrogenation leads to monounsaturated fats that are used in "healthy margarine" so my advice is, use butter or coconut oil, but stay away from all fake butter, even if it says it has zero trans fat, it's still a fake food.
The two polyunsaturated fats that the body absolutely needs are Omega-6 and Omega-3. Vegetable oils have Omega-6. Healthy meats such as fatty fish, organic and grass fed beef, pastured meat of any kind has Omega-3. I'm not a huge fan of today's olive oil, because there have been too many fake olive oil scandals. But olive oil is a source of conditionally necessary Omega-9, so if you have an illness, consider including it in a salad dressing, for instance. If you want to play it totally safe, get your fat (and protein) from fatty fish and pastured chicken, primarily.
3. Eat protein every day, around 75-100 grams.
100 grams of protein is only 400 calories, that's all, and blocks hunger extremely well. No matter if you're overweight or thin, munching all day on random snacks because you're hungry isn't healthy. During religious fasts, ensure you're getting it from allowed foods. I can't think of any religion that bans eating beans, so if you're not FODMAP sensitive, include them. Bean flour can also replace gluten in gluten free flour mixes, so remember to add it to your special mix. Organic chickpea flour is not too hard to find. Also, consider making at least one high protein meal a week an organ meat like liver, heart, or steak and kidney pie.
4. Have a spiritual life of some kind.
I don't care if it's religion, or just meditation, or gratefulness, but respect the unknowable in life. If you feel you must do it via science OK, that's a wonder-full beginning. Think about how life on Earth started, read about it. Or think about what we don't know in quantum physics yet. And think about how it came to happen. Or if science isn't your thing, but humanity and morality is... then think about compassion. Read about compassionate acts. Maintain your faith and trust in human beings, even though some of them are not worthy of it. Explore the mystery of corrupt human beings and compassionate ones. How does that happen? Ponder the answers. Experience wonder. Imagine a more enlightened world with less suffering and ignorance in it.
Seek out videos like this and ponder why they do it every day. Then close your eyes and sincerely wish them well. Now wish yourself well. There. You did it, you said a prayer. Simple, isn't it?
5. Get some sunlight, without sunscreen.
There I said it. Fear of sunlight is for vampires, not human beings. In my opinion, this is the most misleading part of health messages today. Be sure to investigate both sides of the "fear sunlight" or "get sunlight" debate, and to take into consideration your current Vitamin D level and the probable optimal Vitamin D level. If you are mostly housebound, with an illness, and can't get outside much, make a vitamin D skin cream by opening a pill and adding it to your skin cream to be absorbed as it would be most naturally. Vitamin D is about more than bone health, it's about your long term liver health, and the immune system.
6. Start your day with two 16 oz. glasses of water every day.
Add lemon if you want. Water is the subject of a lot of health advice, but in my experience, making a habit of drinking extra in the morning, makes the biggest difference in how I feel every day. Maybe I'll remember to drink more water later but the insurance of having drunk half of my "8 glasses a day" first thing, is priceless. I first read this advice in the old classic American health book, "Back to Eden" by Jethro Kloss. He was right, and if Wim Hof is to be believed, he was right about taking a cold morning shower too. I'm still working on the cold shower, but I've adopted the water advice and found it sound.
7. Reach out to people around you.
Be as friendly and chatty as your personality allows. Shyness aside, social contact is the best stress relief. And no matter what's happening in the news, people are much nicer than we imagine, on the whole. Everyone here, right now, is a limited edition, so enjoy each other's company and reap the benefits of friendship. What keeps me engaged in reaching out to people I meet is basically curiosity. I want to hear their thoughts and consider them. Focus on that, and hopefully shyness will lessen a bit.
As a corollary to this, avoid too much toxic news that you have no control over. It's good to stay informed, but don't push it to a level where you're furious and upset daily. Consider volunteering some of your time, so when frustration arises, you can think, "I'm doing something, it's not going to save the world, but it's something."
8. Take a minimum of medications.
If you are taking more than 3, be very aggressive about asking why, and having it fully explained to you. And look for alternatives. Earlier I talked about healthy elders I've known. None of them were taking a lot of meds. Usually it was thyroid medication and that's all. Sometimes it was thyroid and sleep meds, and that's all. This modern mania of blood pressure and statin meds is not ideal in my opinion and if you're being pressured into them, read a lot about it before you agree. Listen to the "Kooks" on the subject of heart disease. Even if you decide to ignore the alternative view, (that heart disease is perhaps not caused by high cholesterol) at least you considered both sides.
My mother in law had to literally flee her elder care facility because of over-medication, especially with blood pressure meds. Without going into too much detail of her medical records, she went from 1 med to multiple meds in one hospitalization and nearly lost her mind over it. She started falling when she wasn't a fall risk before. And she stopped being a fall risk when she cut down her meds. Stories abound of beloved parents being rescued from over-medication so be very careful about how your loved ones are being cared for. Believe your loved ones and agree to help them if they say they feel forced into things. And by the same token, be very careful about what meds you accept as part of your care. Polypharmacy is not harmless and it does matter how you're treated in late life.
9. Take supplements.This subject could take up its very own blog post, and there's enough material for several books on it. However I'm going to stick to a few basics and point out some of the absurd advice out there.
Minimum: Take a multi-vitamin/mineral, and extra Vitamin C, at least 2000 mg of Vitamin C.
If you have a disorder of the gut, take extra B-12 and include high-iron foods. After this, add nutrients that you know are important to you. For instance, I take extra Vitamin E because I have a problem with blood clots that can't be explained by genetics. And I take Omega-3 oil because it helps my gut and my brain health, while further reducing the risk of blood clots. You don't need to take a million supplements, but a few can really help as you get older.
Celiac disease, in countries where it is very hard to avoid gluten (such as Pakistan, Tunisia and others) often presents first as anemia, or liver problems. Vitamin C is required by the gut to heal itself, without it, collagen can't be formed, and the body can't make Vitamin C. B-12 is often deficient in people with Celiac Disease and if it's a problem, then iron absorption will be lacking as well.
I wish I could tell you that our government can be trusted to provide us with good information about supplements, but I can't. They do maintain databases and lists for supplements, but unfortunately they seem more interested in fearmongering than educating. About the only thing that's helpful is to get on the mailing list for recalled supplements though, the function seems currently disabled.
If you want to see what I mean, check out their listing for Colloidal Silver, and then search Pubmed for Colloidal Silver, and then, go to Amazon.com and look for edible silver and gold leaf (which is used for special occasions, on desserts). That really has to be the most egregious case of the government misleading the public. But I honestly can't figure out why all the hating on colloidal silver. If you know, please comment.
What I want is not to erode your trust in our government, I want the government databases to contain truly consistent and trustworthy information. And right now, they don't.
It would be ideal to have all our nutrients coming from food, but for several reasons that's not possible today. Good advice on supplements without getting too wild about it is hard to find and if you're elderly, it can lead to scams. So here's a few tips. If you want the most mainstream supplement advice while still being proactive, consult the website of Dr. Andrew Weil. If you want to take a more aggressive approach, Dr. Mercola or Chris Kresser is your preferred destination.
If you're the type who wants to consider all the scientific aspects of nutrition, you will probably enjoy the blog Self-Hacked. Read the work of Dr. Linus Pauling on Vitamin C (he recommended 6000 mg buffered Vitamin C per day, and more if you're sick). And the work of Dr. Bruce Ames on the most common deficiencies of Americans is worth it. Well researched articles on supplements can be found at the Life Extension Foundation website. Their articles are usually followed by many references to scientific articles.
There is considerable debate about whether or not Nima type devices are useful to people with Celiac Disease. I currently think that, Nima may be helpful to test drugs and supplements. I don't usually embrace things that are so very marketing and industry oriented, but I'm willing to set that aside because Nima-type devices empower people. There are several competing devices such as the EZ Gluten and Glutenpro. Most are in the range of $300 when you figure in the accessories. I think they should be medical devices and covered by insurance, and also regulated as such. But that won't happen right away.
So let me be even more specific about who I trust to sell me expensive supplements without scamming me. Life Extension is a brand I trust, as are Country Life, KAL, Jarrow, Solgar and Source Naturals. Also, the Doctor's Best, and Nature's Plus brands of supplements come with easy to find lab test documentation or assay of what they contain. Evitamins and Swanson Vitamins (online stores) can help keep the costs of supplements down and have clear labeling.
If you're struggling with chronic illness, Pure Therapeutics has a website with specific formulas for people who have metabolic issues, such as a gluten free methyl-formula multivitamin that I currently take. I have terrible problems with taking ordinary formulas of B vitamins, but their version works great for me. They recently changed their name, so I'm including their explanation for that. I'm not sure I agree that PureTheraRx is easier to spell or remember, but I'm happy they weren't taken over by some big careless company.
Edit: I feel like I need to say something about the way supplements are smeared in the press/media.
Medical care has a vital role in our health, but it's not a panacea. And telling people that they should take better care of themselves, and then removing tools like supplements from the market, are diametrically opposite goals. We also live in a world full of chemicals we never should've been exposed to. Some researchers have found that nutrition problems can increase toxicity of these everyday exposures. People with nutrition affecting disorders, like Celiac Disease, are more sensitive to it than the average person.
Supplements will never replace medical care, proper exercise or the health benefit of a supportive community of family and friends. But for some people supplements make the difference between functioning at 30% or functioning at 60% of capacity. And that's not a small thing.
Here is a list documenting the fight against supplements:
- https://anh-usa.org/fda-massive-attack-on-supplements/ (2016)
- https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/dta.1919 (2015)
- https://www.wellnessresources.com/news/senator-durbin-the-fda-viciously-attack-dietary-supplements (2011)
- https://www.newhope.com/news/third-agency-how-dea-cooperates-fda (2008)
- Opinion articles abound, this one a few days ago: https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/436352-most-americans-take-supplements-fda-should-know-something-about-them (2019)
- Thankfully, not all press is about supplement scare tactics and misinformation: https://www.dailyherald.com/entlife/20190322/answers-to-your-questions-about-supplements (2019)
10. Eat Organic, as much as you can afford.Including organic grains if you eat grains. Including organic eggs, dairy, and meat if you eat those. The "dirty" and "clean" vegetable lists have a way of distracting people from the problems of conventional grains, eggs, dairy, and meat. Don't get distracted. Use Cornucopia's scorecard system to find the best organic produce near you.
I've mentioned in other posts about our soils and how depleted they are of minerals, especially zinc and magnesium. And organic farming methods replenish these minerals. If this sounds like new information to you, please research the health benefits of Organic farming. You won't be sorry you did, but your budget will groan a bit.
The single most healthy choice our legislators could make, is provide a subsidy to organic farming, and fully fund unbiased scientific studies into the nutritional difference between conventional and organic farming. Yeah, it's great that they don't spray chemicals on the food too... but the point is also the nutritional value.
11. Sleep well.I know, easier said than done. This is the one place where I will use any method. After more than a decade of intractable insomnia, I have tried them all. Wearing sunglasses at night (there's a song like that isn't there?), using f.lux on my computer, melatonin (which doesn't work for me), Kava Kava, CBD oil, a carby snack, a protein snack before bed, no food before bed, stretching or yoga, magnesium daily, GABA supplements or baclofen, sleep hygiene (which breaks down if you have circadian reversal, like me), delta-wave sleep music, antihistamines, sleep drugs, prayer, compassion meditation, watching cute pet videos... I don't care how you do it, but sleep, and sleep well. Every day you possibly can.
12. Exercise. Daily. Until you sweat.
Then, if you're generally healthy, keep it up for another 15 min at least, and consider HIIT or weight training. If you're chronically ill, stop after sweating for a few minutes. Only push yourself if you're generally healthy.
Why? This is a controversial subject in chronic illness circles. When ME/CFS patients demanded a treatment for chronic fatigue, the UK came out with "GET" and "CBT" therapy which basically forced people who are very sick to exercise beyond what they felt they could do safely. Some children with the illness even got much worse and some people lost the ability to walk even. So let me preface this with: do what you can, feel free to push a little bit, but not too much, be patient and careful if you are elderly or have a fatigue causing illness. If you suspect you have ME/CFS, consider getting an oxygen concentrator if you can afford one. Unlike oxygen tanks, concentrators are available to everyone in the US.
I personally feel best when I maintain a level of activity that pushes me a little bit. That doesn't make me thin, or healthy, but it makes me feel less unwell, and that's an incalculable benefit to me. This spring I'm putting in a small garden which will require almost daily fussing and outdoor exercise. I don't know if it will be as wonderful as I imagine, but I have hopes. However, especially through the winter, sometimes just spending 2 hours outside the house will exhaust me to the point that I can't stay awake the next day. I really wish I knew why and had a surefire way to make it stop. A small garden is a good way to commit to daily movement, and you get nutrition out of it too.
Through this past winter, I'm proud to say that I managed to get at least 10 squats and pushups into nearly every day, and at least once a week used light weights for arm exercises. Plus I stretched every single day. That's not where I want to be with exercise, but in my condition, it's a win.
To sum up, seek healthy advice from many sources, and consider all sides of health debates. It will definitely be confusing and time consuming, but eventually, you will gain a deeper understanding into what works for you, and that will be time well spent. I feel like I just gave you "homework" to do and that isn't "fun." But the benefits are fun. Sleeping well? Priceless. Ditto for feeling good and capable for as much of life as you can. Keep the faith, and that means faith in yourself too.