I'm a Doctor and Here Are 20 Ways to Make Yourself Instantly Healthier
Are you sure you have a healthy lifestyle? Are you certain you don't make health mistakes? I think many of us, including me, a doctor, feel virtuous. OK, we have the odd treat, we're all human—but most of the time we think we get it right. Right? Especially now that there's a virus and we're all self-isolating and "health aware"?
In fact, on a normal day, it's so easy to do so many things that are completely contrary to the current best advice for your health—and be totally unaware of it. So here's my typical day. Maybe you recognize some of my health mistakes. Are these also some of yours? Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
You Didn't Make Your Bed
So what?—you might be thinking. You're just hopping back in later on this evening, so why bother? Maybe during your coronavirus self-isolation, you haven't even gotten out!
An interesting study revealed that 59% of people don't make their beds every morning, and of those, 62% are unhappy. People who make their beds regularly seem more likely to be in good jobs, take regular exercise and own their own homes, than people who do not.
Making your bed is a way of starting the day the way you mean to go on, with a sense of purpose. It's proven to help self-esteem and serves to reduce clutter.
You Ate Ice Cream Out of the Tub and Put it Back in the Freezer
Unfortunately, ice cream can be a major culprit when it comes to spreading germs. If you let it melt too much, before putting it back in the freezer, this sweet sticky mixture is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The most common pathogens are salmonella, campylobacter, E.coli and listeria.
Always scoop your ice cream into a bowl with a clean scoop. Replace the lid on the tub and refreeze immediately. If your ice cream has gone slushy, throw it away—do not refreeze!
Not again! Late for a Zoom call? How common is it to sleep through your alarm clock? Oversleeping comes with a health warning. People who oversleep have increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and premature death. It can also be a sign of depression or obstructive sleep apnea.
It may seem trivial, but if you regularly oversleep—this should be a wake-up call (no pun intended) for a health check!
You Watched a Late-Night Movie
This is why I overslept—as when I went to bed I couldn't get to sleep!
The truth of the matter is that the TV emits blue light. This interferes with the body's circadian rhythms—our natural body clock which tells us when it's time to sleep. At night, as it gets dark, our bodies produce the hormone melatonin which makes us feel sleepy. However, this blue light from the TV stops your body from producing melatonin.
For best results, we should all stop watching TV a couple of hours before bedtime, by relaxing and reading a book.
You Sat for Eight Hours
So I didn't move all day. I'm sure many of you have done exactly the same. You're stuck at home and either watching TV or working—either way, in front of a screen. But (after reading this article, of course)—get up!
There is now substantial research data which shows prolonged sitting is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. A PLOS One review, of all studies published on this topic 1989-2013, included more than 500,000 adults. The study investigators reported that after 7 hours of sitting, for each extra hour, your risk of dying increases by >5%.
Working at stand up desks, taking Zoom calls standing up, and taking a short break once an hour to move around, are all now recommended daily.
You Drank the Whole Bottle of Wine
We all deserve a glass of wine at the end of the day. Maybe even two. But if you find yourself finishing the bottle yourself, think about this quick math first: So the average 750 ml bottle (ABV 13,5%) of red wine contains 10 units of alcohol—and around 600 calories. If you drink four bottles of wine per month, this is 27,000 calories per year—the equivalent to eating 48 Big Mac's per year!
The maximum amount of alcohol recommended is 14 units per week (that's a couple of glasses a night) and this should be spread out over the week, and not consumed all at once.
You Didn't Wash Your Hands After Using the Toilet
Here's the staggering statistic: just one gram of human poo contains over a trillion bacteria! The best thing we can do to stop the spread of diarrheal illnesses is to wash our hands after going to the toilet. This, of course, also applies to cold and flu viruses, as well as the dreaded coronavirus.
Not washing hands means bacteria and viruses are transferred everywhere—to door handles, work surfaces, and mobile phones, for example. Then when we put our hands in our mouths, we get sick!
Effective hand washing means using warm water and soap, then lathering between the finger webs and under and around the nails and tips of your fingers, plus the backs of your hands. This needs to be done for at least 20 seconds. Hands should then be dried on a clean towel.
You Ordered Take Out Again
It's OK to treat yourself once in a while, especially since ordering in supports restaurants damaged by the coronavirus. But think about what you're ordering.
71% of Americans are now overweight or obese. Eating high fat, processed foods kills more Americans today than smoking! Dr. Joel Fuhrman refers to this as "Fast Food Genocide."
It's "chips, soda, cookies, candy, cereal bars, French fries, burgers, pizza, white flour goods and all other high calorie, low-nutrient food," he says, "that people often eat multiple times per day." Eating a healthy nutritious diet is absolutely crucial if we are to turn around these obesity statistics and not just become part of them ourselves.
You Missed Your Five Portions of Fruit and Veg
My day started late, I never moved from my desk, I'm tired now and there's nothing in the fridge. Oh dear, once again I haven't had five portions of fruit and veg!
Why do we need five portions of fruit and veg every day?
WHO issued the recommendation that a diet containing enough fruit and vegetables is an effective measure to reduce the risk of chronic disease and manage body weight. Fruits and vegetables contain large quantities of vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, phytochemicals and antioxidants. These are essential for our bodily functions.
Taste the rainbow: Many of the brightly colored fruits and vegetables (e.g. beetroot, red cabbage, eggplants, berries) contain large amounts of heart-healthy antioxidants.
You Had Cake for Breakfast
I get it. You opened the fridge door, and last night's chocolate fudge cake was looking at you, and before you knew it, you'd grabbed a slice and stuffed it in! That best intention to make yourself a fruit smoothie somehow never materialized. Or maybe you ate a muffin—which is basically just cake for breakfast.
Ok—here's the truth. No breakfast is better than that breakfast. Skipping breakfast means you are continuing your overnight fast from the previous night. Long periods of fasting are good for your metabolism. Fasting and leanness are correlated with longevity. Try it and see how you feel. It's better to have no breakfast than eat a slice of chocolate cake!
You Over-Salted Your Fries
WHO have issued recommendations about salt. Most people eat at least twice the recommended amount of salt every day. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and increase your risk of coronary heart disease—strokes and heart attacks.
Salt is present in many processed foods, such as bacon, ham, salami, salted chips and snacks and even in bread, cereals, soy sauce and stock cubes. Restricting salt in your diet is likely to give you an extra year of life! (Well, I shouldn't be eating the fries anyway.)
You "Only Did 3,000 Steps"
Like many of my contemporaries I wear a Fitbit in the hope of doing at least 10,000 steps a day. However, if you, like me, are sat at a desk all day and self-isolating, this can be very difficult to achieve.
In fact, 10,000 steps a day is an arbitrary figure used to give some estimation of how active you are.
Under 5,000 steps a day is classed as a "sedentary lifestyle." It's important to increase this low level of activity. Ideas include walking or cycling (as long as you stay six feet from others). How about walking up and down stairs several times an hour to get a break from the computer, or having a desk bike, or a pedal exerciser, so you can cycle in front of your computer!
You've Been Snacking Mindlessly
What did happen to that whole packet to Mallomars?
Snacking is generally not a good idea if you are trying to lose weight and improve your diet. A 2019 comprehensive review of the current medical evidence in the journal Nutrients concluded that to maintain optimal body weight and good health:
- Eat 2- 3 meals a day—don't snack
- Eat breakfast—this is because there is some advantage to starting to eat earlier in the day (unless you're fasting)
- Have your last meal of the day at 3-4 pm—this is so you can then fast overnight
- Avoid late-night meals—this would break the fast
- Increase the protein content of your food—protein increases satiety and reduces hunger
- Have 12-16 hours of fasting in a 24-hour period—it's only after 12 hours of fasting that fat breakdown actually begins.
You Bit Your Nails
Around 30% of adults bite their nails (it's called onychophagia)—although this is usually thought of as a problem in childhood. Most research into nail biting has been in the pediatric population—however, the principles are the same.
There is a link with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Nail biting can lead to dental problems with destruction of nerve roots, malocclusion and gum injuries.
This is topical since right now, we all need to stop putting our hands in our mouths to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Nail biting is a real problem.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been cited as an effective treatment. (I guess I need to find myself a therapist.)
You Were Too Lazy to Clean Your Teeth
How many of you forget to clean your teeth in the morning, because you're stuck at home and not seeing coworkers anyway? This is a big problem.
Regular toothbrushing is so important. Your mouth is the gateway to your body. Your oral health is closely correlated with your general health. Overgrowth of bacteria in your gums causes an inflammatory reaction. Unchecked this significantly increases your risk of developing serious diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
Let's face it (literally!) bad breath is pretty disgusting. You must regularly brush your teeth, and visit the dental hygienist once social distancing is over.
You Forgot Your Morning Medication
Yes, I'm guilty of this too, sometimes. Forgetting to take your medication is incredibly common. Seventy-five percent of US citizens admit to not taking their medication properly. The cost to the country is estimated at approximately $1 billion per year! But: "Drugs don't work if people don't take them!" as the former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, MD said. We all need to do better.
You Pulled Out Your Hair
The medical term is trichotillomania. This is a habit, most often practiced by women, who subconsciously pluck out hair repetitively and seem unable to stop. It causes bald patches—most often on the scalp.
Funnily enough, nail biting and hair pulling often go together. Some people eat their hair and swallow it—this is called trichophagia. Occasionally hairballs— nown as trichobezoars—require surgery for a blocked intestine!
Anxiety, stress and mental health disorders should never be overlooked.
You Bought Some Medication on the Internet Without Thinking
When you feel anxious, you want to buy medicine in a hurry, it can be easy by mistake and purchase from a rogue pharmacy. This is dangerous because you cannot be sure you are getting the correct product. Fake medicines can be contaminated with high levels for example, of poisonous metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic.
They also may not contain the right ingredient of the drug you need.
The FDA has a clear warning about buying medicines online. Always check the online pharmacy; requires a valid doctor's prescription, is licensed by your state board of pharmacy, and carries the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's (NABP) Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice SitesTM Seal visit VIPPS website.
You Didn't Fill Out Your Food Diary
Did you know that writing down what you eat helps you lose weight?
If you need convincing, take a look at the following:
In a 2017 Diabetes Prevention and Weight Management study, participants were followed for 12 months. They were asked to track what they were eating by completing pen and paper booklets every day and handing theses in their health carers regularly for comments.
At 12 months they fell into 3 groups, rare trackers (<33% days tracked), inconsistent trackers (<66% days tracked) and consistent trackers (>66% days tracked).
Only the consistent trackers achieved weight loss—an average of 9.9 pounds.
I get this—yes, and I'm off to buy myself a food diary!
You Didn't Bother With Sunscreen
People of all ages are being strongly encouraged to live a "sun-safe life," says the Skin Cancer Foundation. Even those of us working indoors are recommended to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas—at least SPF15.
For outdoor workers, or when participating in sports, you should use a sunscreen SPF 30 or above and reapply every 2 hours. U/V light from the sun constantly damages our skin. Regular use of sunscreen reduces your risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin by 40%, and melanoma by 50%.
It also reduces the onset of wrinkles, sunspots, and sagging.
Final Thoughts From the Doctor
So now you're thinking I'm a lazy, disorganized, overweight, slob who has bad breath, is bald with bitten nails, and a secret wine problem—who can be found late at night eating ice cream direct from the tub!
Please note I do have the writer's gift for exaggeration!
In fact, I have a BMI in the normal range, watch my diet carefully, look after my nails—and I do keep a food diary!
I think it's interesting that so many of us are in denial about the risks we take with our health. So many of the things on this list seem innocent enough, but if they are health habits which become persistent, they all add up to significant health risks which we don't even realize we are taking.
Give it some thought. What simple changes can you make to reduce your hidden health risks? Last comment—if you take nothing else away from reading this, please do wash your hands.
The future of survival on our planet depends on it.
As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.