The Journey Toward Good Health

The Journey Toward Good Health

by Dr. David Heine

Someone comes to my office every day seeking the latest and greatest surgery or pill for their illness, disease, or condition.  However, it is becoming clearer to me over time, that the latest and greatest technical fix is often more expensive and less effective than simple adjustments in lifestyle.

For many of us, adjustments in lifestyle seem far more difficult and daunting.   I would like to challenge each of you (and myself) in this series of articles to explore ways to improve your health through modifications in the way we live each day.  These methods have been scientifically shown to improve longevity, quality of life, and in some cases reversal of disease.  This series will focus on the research of Dr. Dean Ornish and his colleagues who are recognized for their work in showing that many medical conditions can be treated with adjustments in our lifestyle.

We are each so buried in our day that we cannot see how small choices during the day impact how we feel and how this impacts our health.  Small changes in how we live can yield profound results. If we had the ability to step back and examine our daily lives and monitor the improvements in our moods, blood pressure, cholesterol, sex life, relationships with others, we might be more motivated to be persistent with the positive changes that we are making. That is where science plays a role.  Many researchers across the globe are analyzing our lives for us, since many of us are too busy and perhaps a bit too biased to study ourselves.  They are able to step back and study these changes and measure their impact.

Scientific data shows that the progression of heart disease (narrowing of the arteries around the heart that cause heart attacks or angina) can be reversed with making significant changes in the way that we live our lives without the use of medication in many, but not all, cases. These changes in lifestyle include a diet high in lean protein, whole grains, and vegetables in their unrefined forms.  Moderate daily exercise, stress management and improved social interactions (the practice of a religion, support groups, friendships and love) are also key elements of this healthier way of living.

Dr. Ornish and his colleagues at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and UCSF have now shown that the progression of early stage prostate cancer can be stopped or perhaps reversed with changing how we eat and how we live.

Their research show positive effects on over 500 separate genes (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) in just a few months of starting an intense and broad change in lifestyle.  In other words, our actual DNA and the proteins that it expresses can be turned on (up regulated) or off (down regulated) based on our lifestyle.

Some of us may need to do more than others.  If you have had a heart attack or 2 sisters with breast cancer and you are 30 lbs overweight, you will need to make more extensive changes than others.

Finding joy and love and waking up feeling well each day is better than living in fear of diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease.  Try to take a step back each day and look at how you are living.  Try to look at the big picture.  Did I take a few minutes today to meditate or simply take a few minutes for quiet reflection? Did I order the salad at Subway instead of the sandwich?  Did I have an egg and some oatmeal this morning instead of a Danish? However, don’t forget, there is good data that supports that the healthiest eaters in our society allow themselves occasional (occasional, not frequent) indulgences.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  Humans have a hard time changing more than one or two things at one time.  Try a couple of small changes at first.  Sign up for a yoga class or try a new vegetable.  Go for a walk with a friend or ask a new friend out on a date.  Learn about a new religion or say a short prayer for a friend in need.  You will be amazed at how these small changes will snowball.

Maybe after a few months you’ll be able to cut back on your dose of cholesterol medicine (with your doctor’s supervision) or walk an extra block or two. Maybe you’ll sleep a bit better and have a bit more energy to try a little snowshoeing with the kids or grandkids. If moderate changes are not giving you the improvements in your weight, energy, or cholesterol that you want, bigger changes may be needed.  You may need to walk 30 minutes daily, work towards a “plant based diet,” and add in some yoga or meditation to avoid a new medication or surgery, but I think it will be worth it. Wishing you the best of health in 2011.