By Timothy Gamble
(This article updates and expands an article I wrote in 2015.)
A 2015 medical study has revealed that as much as 90% of all cancer cases are lifestyle-related, rather than genetic or DNA-related. Many other diseases plaguing modern folks, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, also largely have lifestyle-related causes. This means that they are, in most cases, preventable. It is our unhealthy modern lifestyle that are driving these diseases to epidemic levels. And it is the rise of these diseases that have pushed medical and insurance costs sharply upwards in recent decades. If we are to get healthy, as individuals and as a society, we need to abandon the unhealthy modern lifestyle triggers for these preventable diseases.
The Unhealthy Modern Lifestyle:
1) Tobacco use in all its forms. Like it or not, various medical studies have proved that smoking and other uses of tobacco are directly responsible for about 22% of all cancer cases (not just lung cancer). Smoking and tobacco use are also responsible for a wide-range of other health problems.
What about second-hand smoke? Being occasionally exposed to second-hand smoke is unlikely to cause cancer. However, prolonged and consistent exposure to second-hand smoke, such as living with a smoker for years, can lead to cancer and other health problems. This is especially true for small children whose lungs and immune systems are still developing. Parents who smoke ARE putting their children's health and lives at risk. If that fact offends you, that's your problem (and, unfortunately, your child's problem).
2) Substance abuse. This unhealthy lifestyle category includes both the use of illegal drugs and the abuse of legal drugs and alcohol. And, yes, this includes the use of marijuana.
An occasional alcoholic drink won't cause health problems for most people, and in fact a daily glass of red wine may have health benefits. However, heavy alcohol consumption - certainly to the point of getting drunk on a regular basis - can cause serious problems over time, including liver disease and even several forms of cancer.
Marijuana currently enjoys a favorable status in modern society, and legalization is happening everywhere. Both sides of the marijuana debate are guilty of exaggeration in promoting their viewpoint. Marijuana use is neither as dangerous as its opponents claim, nor as safe and healthy as its supporters claim. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Occasionally smoking a single joint of marijuana is unlikely to cause serious health problems, but prolonged and consistent marijuana use can cause serious health problems, including lung disease and even the loss of IQ points.
3) Lack of physical activity. Modern society is very sedentary. Most folks get little physical activity on a regular basis. According to a 2012 study, "conclusive evidence exists that physical inactivity is one important cause of most chronic diseases. In addition, physical activity primarily prevents, or delays, chronic diseases, implying that chronic disease need not be an inevitable outcome during life."
Lack of physical activity is a major contributing factor to obesity, as well as high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, stroke, joint problems, balance problems, colon cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, several gallbladder diseases, and even erectile dysfunction, among many other problems.
4) Unhealthy diets. The modern diet is extremely unhealthy - overloaded with sugars, salt, unhealthy grains, and various substances such as preservatives, dyes, and other chemicals we were never meant to eat as food. Also, Americans typically eat huge serving sizes, consuming way to many calories for our sedentary lifestyles, leading to the current obesity epidemic. Fast foods, junk foods, and other heavily processed foods are very unhealthy.
Too much sugar in our modern diets has many negative effects on the human body, including obesity, greater risk of type 2 diabetes, greater risk of some cancers, and may contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. Too much sugar can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and flus. Too much sugar can also cause insomnia and drain your energy levels.
A major contributor to too much sugar in our diets is the fact that sugar is added in large amounts to a surprising number of foods - from condiments to canned veggies to frozen dinners. Even foods marketed as "healthy" can often have surprising amounts of added sugars. Read labels carefully.
5) Sunburns. Exposure to sunlight is not dangerous. In fact, we need it for vitamin D production. Don't be afraid of being out in the sun or of getting a healthy tan. However, even too much of a good thing can be bad. Repeated sunburns, especially to the point that it is painful and causes skin peeling, can lead to various problems such as skin cancer, premature aging, and other diseases.
6) Lack of quality sleep. (NOTE: The more I read about sleep, the more important it seems to be - this is the missing ingredient in many people's health regimen.) I know plenty of people who claim to get by on six hours of sleep a
night or less. You might "get by" with less, but the research is
overwhelming - adequate sleep is very important to good health. Lack of
adequate sleep not only makes you tired, but according to research,
impairs your concentration, memory, fine motor skills, and negatively
impacts your mood. Not only that, but a long-term lack of adequate sleep
compromises your immune system and plays a role in developing high
blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even several forms
Getting enough sleep on a consistent basis really is a must
for your health. Your body's healing and repair system only works at peak efficiency when you are asleep. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are not giving your immune system the time it needs to heal your body.
7) Environmental toxins. The modern world is filled with any number of dangerous chemicals and other environmental toxins that we are exposed to on a daily baisis in concentrations much greater than normally found in nature. These include air and water pollution, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, PCBs, VOCs, phthalates, chlorine, and even heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead. All these toxins can overwhelm your body and lead to a multitude of problems.
8) Stress. The grinding, day-in and day-out, never-ending frustrations of dealing with traffic, long lines, stressful jobs, bad bosses, rude and toxic people, and a whole host of other things beyond our control, can cause many problems with our health. Prolonged stress can cause high blood pressure, increase stress hormones, lower testosterone, and negatively impact other hormone levels. In turn, each of those problems can contribute to additional health problems, in a cascading effect, similar to dominoes falling.
Beneficial Lifestyle Changes
What can you do to correct the unhealthy modern lifestyle? There are a number of beneficial changes you can make, including:
1) Stop smoking and using tobacco in any form.
2) Stop using and/or abusing illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, and marijuana.
3) Greatly increase your physical activity.
4) Lean to eat healthy, and in moderation.
5) Reduce sugar intake as much as possible.
5) Don't avoid sunlight, but do avoid getting sunburns.
6) Make a habit of getting at least seven hours of sleep every night ("catching up" on the weekends doesn't count).
7) Find ways to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins.
8) Learn to manage stress.
Websites, Books, and Other Resources
Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan (on the Mayo Clinic website)
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Pyramid (on Dr. Andrew Weil's website)
Traditional Asian Diet (on the Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology website)
The Paleo Manifesto (fascinating book by John Durant)
8 Weeks to Optimum Health (book by Dr. Andrew Weil)
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Action Plans (book)
Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal (book)
American Cancer Society (website)
Quitting Smoking (on the American Cancer Society website)
Eating for Good Health: Anti-Cancer Foods (article on this website)
Six Hacks to Supercharge Your Health and Healing (article on this website)
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