The good news: Americans are living longer. The bad news: Americans are spending more of their lives in poor health.
A latest results by the Global Burden of Disease Study show that the United States has seen a dramatic shift in the last 20 years from illnesses that cut life short to chronic health problems that lead to longer-term disability.
While Americans are living longer on average, they aren’t necessarily living those years in good health. Many are living with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and, fatty liver disease. Americans aren’t suffering from conditions that will kill them (right away), just strip them of their quality of life sometimes for ten to 20 years.
Too Much of One Thing; Not Enough of Another
It’s not a big surprise that the trend in living longer in an unhealthy state is attributed to lifestyle with the biggest problem being poor eating habits. The American diet continues to be too low in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seed, and too high in sodium, processed meats and trans-fatty acids.
Second and third on the list of problematic lifestyle habits are smoking and a lack of physical activity. Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, says “If we want to be healthier, we have to change the way many of us live. Twenty percent of adults in the U.S. still smoke cigarettes. A growing number of adults are overweight or obese.”
“We need to get more exercise on average than we do, and we need to stop doing foolish things like driving after we’ve been drinking alcohol or drinking in excess.”
If Dr. Fineberg is right, and I have every reason to believe he is, there is a relatively short list of things we have to do to improve the quality of our lives:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Get more physical activity
- Don’t start smoking, and if you do smoke, quit.
You Can Choose To Live A Long AND Healthy Life
Recently I had the opportunity to view a presentation by Dr. David Hunnicutt, CEO of the Wellness Council of America, who was a keynote speaker at a recent Keenan conference. Dr. Hunnicutt addressed the very same issues that are validated in the Global Burden of Disease Study. We may be living longer, but we’re certainly not living better.
In his presentation David addressed the concept of Compression of Morbidity which is a hypothesis that was confirmed by a 1998 study by the University of Pennsylvania that shows that with proper nutrition and physical activity the burden of lifetime illness may be compressed into a short period of time right before death.
Compression of Morbidity is what everyone dreams of. It’s a long life void of chronic illness and disease where you have one ‘event’ later in life that leads to your death. It’s the opposite of the numerous years of disease management that many Americans are now experiencing. Instead of a long life where you linger in the midst of chronic disease, you have a long healthy life that ends somewhat abruptly from a natural cause.
According to Dr. Hunnicutt the dream of a compressed morbidity is within our reach and we only have to do a couple of things to achieve it. Not surprising, they just happen to be the same things Dr. Fineberg mentioned. We need to improve our diet by eating more whole foods and we need to get 30 to 40 minutes of physical activity every day. Nowhere does either expert say you have to go on a restrictive diet, join a gym, or qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Being healthy is a choice. By choosing to walk 30 to 40 minutes a day and filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean proteins and unprocessed grains you’re writing your own prescription for a long and healthy life. There’s nothing morbid about that!
Lead The Way
Workplace wellness programs and challenges is one of the best ways to encourage your friends and co-workers to establish healthier habits. A walking program, No Fast Food Challenge and Sit for 60 Move For Three campaign are fun and promote employee wellness. Find a few of your co-workers that are interested in creating a healthier working environment and work with them to create some simple, yet effective initiatives for your organization.
What are some of the things you’re doing to model healthy behaviors for your friends, family and co-workers?
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