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HEALTH MATTERS: Abide by these important risk factors

Q. No red meat. More fish and omega-3 fatty acids. More broccoli. More exercise. More leafy vegetables. Less alcohol. Enough! With all of the healthy living advice out there, what are the really important things to do -- and to not do -- to stay ...

Dr. Joshua Wynne
Dr. Joshua Wynne

Q. No red meat. More fish and omega-3 fatty acids. More broccoli. More exercise. More leafy vegetables. Less alcohol. Enough! With all of the healthy living advice out there, what are the really important things to do -- and to not do -- to stay as healthy as possible?

A. You are right to feel a little overwhelmed with all of the preventive health and wellness advice that is available. And while most of the advice is legitimate and useful, some suggestions are much more effective than others.

The "big three" suggestions are:

• Don't smoke, and stop if you do smoke

• Keep your weight under control and exercise prudently

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• Check your blood pressure and take your medicines if needed to control your hypertension.

• One might add a fourth admonition -- don't drink alcohol excessively.

Abiding by these three or four things will unequivocally have the greatest effect on your health and well-being. It turns out that the all-time most important factor -- not smoking -- is now being eclipsed by the obesity and inactivity epidemic.

Obesity may have surpassed cigarette smoking as the most important risk factor for illness and death in this country. And believe me, I know how hard it is to diet and lose weight.

After being the proverbial 98-pound weakling for much of my formative years, I now find -- to my chagrin -- that I am, technically, mildly overweight! My body mass index (or BMI) is 25.1, and anything higher than 25 is considered overweight.

I need to lose about 7 pounds to get down to a BMI of 24.9, which is considered optimal. But losing those 7 pounds is a lot harder than I thought it. But I'm determined to do it. So, don't smoke, don't allow the pounds to add up and exercise prudently, keep your blood pressure under control, and don't drink alcohol in excess.

All the other preventive advice is helpful, but those four admonitions are the ones that will -- by far -- help reduce your risk of premature illness or death.

Q. I know that fantastic advances have occurred in the past 10 or 20 years in the treatment of heart disease; yet I understand that more and more people have heart problems. That seems contradictory. Can you explain?

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A. You are quite right that treatment for heart disease has advanced rapidly in the past few decades. As a consequence, mortality from heart disease has been almost cut in half over that period. What that means, though, is that more people are survivors of heart disease.

Thus, the number of people living with heart problems actually has increased as our treatment improved; epidemiologists call this "prevalence" of disease, which is the fraction of a population with a given disease. And prevalence always goes up as mortality from that disease falls. So, as treatment for heart disease improves, more people survive and the prevalence of heart disease increases.

A key factor obviously is the quality of life of the survivors. And fortunately, most of the current survivors of heart disease experience not only longer lives but also an improvement in their quality of life. So, it's a win-win situation.

Wynne is vice president for health affairs at UND, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and a professor of medicine. He is a cardiologist by training.

Submit a question to Health Matters at healthmatters@med.und.edu or Health Matters, 501 North Columbia Road, Stop 9037, Grand Forks, ND 58202-9037. Remember, no personal details, please.

The content of this column is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice or care. The information provided herein should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this column.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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