Friday, November 25, 2011

Why is the US so unhealthy? Part II

Continuing on from the last post on health, the next most important factors are probably alcohol consumption and smoking.  Does anyone think that these things are good for you?

 Well, in moderate amounts, alcohol appears to have some benefits including: increase to longevity; lower chance of cardiovascular disease; reduce risk of stroke; less likelihood of contracting Type II diabetes; and other benefits.  This article has a more complete list along with extensive references.  Not every doctor and researcher agrees with this advice, but these benefits only accrue with moderate drinking (1/day for women and 1-2/day for men).  This article from WebMD suggests that any amount of drinking raises the risks of certain types of cancer, especially if you already have other risk factors

But if you drink more than a moderate amount your chances of death increase.  There are approximately 79,000 deaths a year attributed to excessive alcohol use making it the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death.  Here is the CDC fact sheet on alcohol use.  It is important to understand if you use alcohol moderately, you are abusing it, or if you suffer from alcoholism.  Use this guideline to see if you have a problem.

It is up to each individual to determine if they can benefit from alcohol consumption since it is a major part of many lifestyles and cultural events.  Personally, I don’t think that the benefits outweigh the detriments.  It is expensive, adds calories and increases the odds that you will eat more, is linked to several diseases, and  increases the chances of having an accident (not just in a vehicle).  On the benefit side, my family already lives into their 80s and has an extremely low rate of cancer and heart disease.  So, all-in-all I think that I am better off not drinking, but you decide for yourself.

On to smoking.  I couldn’t find any current source that suggested that smoking was good for your health, unlike the advertisements in the 1920s through the 1950s.  Here is a retrospective article from Time magazine that is amusing in light of our current knowledge.  I don’t really see the point in elaborating on this particular topic.  It’s bad for your health and that of those around you – stop doing it.

The last major area of health improvement includes several small items that individually contribute little, but together can increase overall health; several of which were mentioned in this link from my previous post.

  • Retirement, before age 65 anyway, seems to lower longevity by a fair amount.  It is not clear why this is, and more research is needed, but this article has some interesting facts.
  • Flossing you teeth would seem to have little effect on your overall health, but some recent research shows that to be untrue.  Heart disease, arterial plaque, and even diabetes have been linked to the same bacterium that causes gingivitis.  So not only can you save your smile, not have to worry about your dentures falling out, but also save your life by flossing every day.
  • Sleeping enough has been linked to weight gain, high blood pressure, and decreases the effectiveness of your immune system (and you are grumpier).  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that sleep deprivation is responsible for 100,000 car crashes each year.  Work-place accidents are as much as twice as common with poor sleep habits.
  • Stress, especially in today’s fast-paced environment, can have a huge impact on your health.  The causes of stress or myriad, but the effects on the body are the same as our flight-or-fight reflexes.  In this state the body increases adrenaline and cortisol which ups heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar; all of benefit if you need to run away from a threat, but much lees beneficial in a meeting.  Stress increases your risk of other problems and makes ones you already have worse.  It has been linked to heart disease, depression, gastrointestinal ailments, and memory impairment.  Here are some ways to manage your stress.
  • Social interactions have been shown to increase your life span and reduce the incidence of depression.  The reasons for this are not clear, but considering that humans are social animals, it stands to reason that we need to interact with others.  Read more about that here.

None of these things are going to let you live forever, but combined they may extend your life, and the quality of your life, quite a bit.  My main point about staying healthy was to decrease medical costs, and most of the things I have described are cheap or free.  If everyone does what they can to lower their own healthcare costs then shouldn’t market forces drive down the costs of doctors, hospitals, and insurance?  Even if it doesn’t, it still seems like a worthwhile effort.

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