I’ve often said
that if I’m ever in a car crash, don’t take me to an herbalist—or a chiropractor, nutritionist, or stress management expert. Nope, if (God forbid) I’m ever in a life-and-death emergency situation, I want to go to Cedars-Sinai (or any top American hospital).
Why? Because doctors practicing conventional, traditional medicine are the best in the world at keeping people alive in dire circumstances or bringing them back from the brink of death. What they don’t do very well is prevent people from getting sick.
Delos Cosgrove, MD, a former heart surgeon and now the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, recently told Time magazine, “I never saw a well patient in my life. They were all sick. We are in the sickness business. We need to get into the health business.”
Indeed. And there’s no time to lose. Though the United States has all the cutting-edge medicine in the world, a staggering 75 percent of our health care costs are attributable to chronic and preventable diseases— the kind that conventional medicine does very badly with. As anyone who has been in the presence of a television set in the last year knows, these costs are killing us—fully 60 percent of bankruptcies in 2007 were a result of medical costs. “Ours is a system that rewards pills and procedures, and nurtures a clinical culture in which the goal is primarily to fix what goes wrong,” writes journalist Alice Park. We need to be talking about prevention—interventions that take place before we get sick and that have a darn good chance of keeping us from getting sick in the first place.
In my forthcoming book, The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer, due to be released early next year, I created what I call the 7x3 Matrix of Healthy Aging. There are three categories—food, supplements, and lifestyle—each of which contain seven simple strategies.
I consider these to be the most effective things you can do for prevention of chronic and debilitating disease, the best strategies for creating a long and healthy life, and the best program I can think of for staying out of the doctor’s office. Here are some of the highlights:
- Drink green tea: Green tea contains compounds that have been found to reduce the risk of several types of cancer as well as heart disease. It may also protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.
- Eat nuts: Some of the largest and most important long-term studies
of diet and health have shown a consistent 30 to 50 percent lower risk of heart attacks or heart disease associated with eating nuts several times each week.
- Eat beans: Beans are the cornerstone of every one of the diets in the so-called Blue Zones, areas around the world where people live the longest and stay the healthiest. Beans reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
- Eat fish: Cold-water fatty fish, such as (wild) salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring contain omega-3 fats that protect the brain and the heart, improve mood, and lower blood pressure and triglycerides. (I get all my fish direct from Alaska from a wonderful company called Vital Choice—see the link on my Web site, jonnybowden.com.)
- Eat more produce: Your grandmother was right. Fruits and vegetables offer more preventive power than any other foods on the entire planet. Forget five a day—go for nine servings a day. You can do it!
- Omega-3 fatty acids: This is the one supplement I wouldn’t be without, no matter what. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and in flax, protect both the brain and the heart. EPA and DHA, the two fatty acids found in fish oil, are the most important for human health, but ALA, the omega-3 fatty acid found in flaxseed, also has value. All three are highly anti-inflammatory. (Note: if you’re a vegetarian and take only flaxseed oil, make sure to take at least 2 tablespoons a day.)
- Selenium: Selenium might just be the most important mineral you have never heard of. It’s critically important for the immune system. Mortality rates are significantly higher in individuals with low selenium levels. It also has anticancer activity.
- Vitamin D: It’s impossible to overstate how important this vitamin is. The Physicians’ Desk Reference sums it up best: “Studies have indicated that vitamin D may play beneficial roles in a wide range of disease and disorders, including osteoporosis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, psoriasis, and Alzheimer’s disease.” A 2008 study showed that people with low levels of vitamin D are significantly more likely to die for any reason than people with higher levels.
- Walk 30 minutes a day: Walking has been shown to grow new brain cells in both animals and human beings; it’s the perfect natural antidepressant and mood elevator. The American Cancer Society even states that walking can reduce cancer risk. Walking is good for the heart, the lungs, the brain, and the soul. And while you’re at it, train with weights twice a week.
- Reduce stress: Stress shortens life and contributes to every major disease, either making it worse or lengthening recovery time. It also shrinks an important part of the brain called the hippocampus. You can reduce stress with meditation or you can do it with deep-breathing exercises. Breathing deeply gets oxygen to the brain, calms the mind and the soul, lowers stress hormones, and is incompatible with anger and other destructive emotions.
- Find your purpose and connect with others: More than food, more than supplements, more than exercise, more than virtually any other strategy I can think of to extend both the length and the quality of life, connecting with others is the most important thing you can possibly do if you want to live long and well.
Prevention is really a numbers game. It’s about decreasing the odds of bad outcomes while increasing the odds of good ones. If you follow the simple, easy strategies outlined above, your odds of staying healthy will be enormously increased. I’m betting on it.