Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem – Seize the Day! This powerful dictum always brings me back to Robin Williams’ moving portrayal of the beloved and inspiring professor in the film Dead Poet’s Society. It is a call to action, a renewal of the spirit and a return to optimism and determination, like the feeling of hopeful yearning we experience when we pledge those New Year’s resolutions. As the clock ticks away the final minutes of the old year, the excitement can be intoxicating. But so often we fail. After the rush of the New Year’s celebration fades and reality sets in, those ambitions can once again seem insurmountable. The truth is we very often unknowingly set ourselves up for failure.

Maybe this year we can keep a few rules in mind: Be realistic, keep it simple, and understand that self-motivation is essential when it comes to making real changes in your life. You have to be the one who is convinced you need to make a change. You have to really want it; your desire to make the change has to be greater than the desire to keep things the same. If you’ve ever spoken to someone who successfully stopped smoking or made any significant and lasting lifestyle change and asked them how they did it, the answer is always the same: “I wanted it and I just did it!”

Be realistic. Create short-term goals and make changes in small steps that are part of longer-term goals. If you need to lose twenty-five pounds, focus on losing five pounds. And instead of trying to lose five pounds in a week, focus on losing one pound a week. Acknowledge and reward your efforts and progress each step of the way, and never abandon your goals because of momentary failure or neediness. Remind yourself where you were last week or last month. If you are doing anything more than before, you have made progress. If you remain on the path you have chosen and your goals remain in view, your chance of attaining them becomes ever more likely.

Don’t get caught up in the false hope of quick fixes when it comes to making lifestyle changes. It is unfair and foolish to think that decades of unhealthful habits can be eradicated in a week or two.

Finally, don’t fall into the trap that fixing one thing you think has gone wrong is going to change your life. Getting to your ideal weight or driving a fancier car does not equal happiness. It’s not about trading places with someone else who seems to be better off than you are, or looking like the model on the cover of Vogue or GQ, and it’s not about turning back the hands of time. It’s about striving to be the best version of you at this moment and investing in your future. Health and happiness comes as a result of taking better care of you, inside and out, and requires addressing a multitude of factors every day of our lives. Don’t wait for all the stars to be in some perfect alignment; start now in the midst of everything. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

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Look Beyond The Affordable Care Act… It’s Time to Become Proactive About Your Personal Health!

woman runner stretching

Many of us have misgivings about the Affordable Care Act. Although voicing one’s opinion is always a good thing, in this case it should not be a distraction from that which is most important, your own personal health. So, while the politicians continue to battle this out, be sure not to neglect yourself. Instead of ruminating over who’s paying for what, be proactive and do what you can to maximize your health. Here are a few strategies to employ.

First, as hackneyed as this may sound, it is essential to eat a healthful diet and maintain (or achieve and then maintain) an optimal weight. You may believe this to be inconsequential, but having looked at patients’ blood biomarkers for many years I can unequivocally state that losing weight when necessary dramatically improves one’s signs of metabolic disease. In fact, the changes I have seen are nothing short of remarkable. Inflammatory tests, tests demonstrating oxidation of fats, and blood sugar analyses ALL improve with proper eating and appropriate weight.

Then there’s the other commonplace admonition – exercise frequently, optimally on a daily basis. As with diet and weight management, exercise is an essential element in maintaining health and combating disease. Exercise can also take one’s abnormal blood tests and convert them to normal. The good news is that exercise does not demand visits to the gym. Gardening, walking, biking, hiking, and swimming all represent excellent forms of exercise.

Perhaps most important of all is the engagement of patients and their doctors. Patients and doctors need to work in concert in order to achieve the goals we all desire. By examining novel blood tests, appropriately utilizing the best of modern medical technology, and prescribing suitable medications when necessary, your doctor can help you achieve your optimal health. After teaching you the basics of physiology your physician can show you how your body responds to healthful adjustments. You can literally see yourself get healthier over time. From personal experience treating thousands of patients I can assure you that watching your own numbers improve will be incomparably motivating. So speak to your doctor; ask for his or her help; learn as much as you can about your own body; and get healthy in 2014!

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Heart Month is Over but Good Habits Should Remain

woman on beachFebruary, National Heart Month, has come and gone. Hopefully you were inspired to embrace therapeutic lifestyle changes, a healthful diet and exercise regimen. If not, please do not fret. It is not too late to bring health into your life. If you did make the necessary adjustments, congratulations! You are well on the road to better health, increased happiness, and a diminished chance of experiencing the nearly inevitable for other westerners, a heart attack or stroke. The challenge now is to maintain your new-found behaviors. It is often difficult to convert lifestyle changes into permanent practices. The reality is, however, that if you do not embed these healthful modifications into your very being, you will fail to reap their rewards. So, I am writing to you this first week of March to implore you to continue in your quest for optimal health. Continue to exercise, eat well, and strive to achieve and maintain your appropriate weight. As a word of encouragement I can assure you that when you maintain your improved life behaviors for just three consecutive months you dramatically increase the chance that these changes will be yours forever. In sum, keep going. Do not despair if it’s a struggle for you now. Just keep pushing and believing that your efforts will pay off. After three months you will look back and smile, observing that you did it. You will have forever changed your life for the better. And believe it or not you will actually enjoy your daily exercise and even your better diet. So in the words of the great Nike marketers, “Just Do It”. You and your loved ones will forever appreciate this commitment to health.

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Tips to Improve Your Cardiovascular Health During National Heart Month

There may be no better time to change your ways and focus on improving your heart health than National Heart Month. Here are some simple tips that may help get you on a path to better cardiovascular and overall health.

An irreplaceable component in any healthful lifestyle regimen is exercise.

  • The American Heart Association advocates at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or any combination of the two). An average of 30 minutes a day, five times a week is an easy target to remember. (Personally I advocate 60 minutes of daily exercise). If you are unable to allocate a solid thirty minutes of your time to exercise you can divide your time into two or three shorter segments of 10 -15 minutes per day.
  • Walking is the simplest aerobic exercise you can undertake to effectively improve your heart health. It’s enjoyable, free, easy, social, relaxing, and even meditative.
  • Racquet sports, basketball, swimming, golf, gardening – or any aerobic pastime that gets you up off the couch – are great ways to improve your cardiovascular health and potentially trim inches off that waistline.
  • If you’ve been sedentary for years, a full 30 minutes of exercise may be too challenging for you. Start with sessions of shorter duration – something is better than nothing – and gradually build up to a full 30 to 60 minutes of activity. Also, if you have been truly sedentary, see your doctor before embarking upon a new exercise regimen.

Adjust your diet
Excess weight can be a killer. Address any overweight and obesity issues you may have. If you currently eat a lot of fast food, sugary sweets or high saturated fat foods you should begin a transition to a more healthful diet. This is a lifestyle change and does not have to occur all at once!

  • Eat a diet that features daily servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables and at least one serving of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout) per week.
  • Limit foods and drinks high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. Avoid unhealthful snacks. Stay away from processed foods to the best of your ability. Avoid simple carbohydrates. Sugar is your enemy.
  • Consider a high quality fish oil pill that has been concentrated and purified to give you 1,000 mg of combined DHA and EPA in a single soft gel.
  • Take a good daily multiple.

Be your own healthcare advocate
In addition to undertaking a regular exercise regimen and eating a healthful diet here are some additional recommendations for leading a more healthful life.

  • Get a check-up. How often you have a check-up can be determined by your age, sex, and overall health.  Have your blood pressure checked, and get screened for hypertension.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether or not taking a daily aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke is right for you.
  •  Get immunized: Annual flu shots are recommended for adults 50 and older, as well as immunization of adults 65 and older against bacteria that causes pneumonia and related diseases. Children should get immunized for measles, mumps, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, rubella, polio, hepatitis B, etc.
  • Cholesterol screening is imperative. Request an assessment of not only your LDL but your LDL particle number as well.
  • Never smoke; quit smoking if you’ve already started; and avoid second hand smoke.
  • Adults 50 and older should have a routine colorectal-cancer screening. (Genetic issues may dictate earlier screening).
  • Cervical cancer screening for sexually active women and women over 21 years of age.
  • Routine breast-cancer screening for women 50 and older and discussion with women ages 40 to 49 to set an age to begin screening. (Genetic issues may dictate earlier screening).
  • Calcium-supplements can be especially beneficial for adolescent girls and women.
  • Get an eye exam, particularly diabetics and adults 65 and older.
  • Manage your stress. Meditation, deep breathing, and simple exercise will help you do so.
  • Get routine dermatologic exams.
  • Get enough sleep. If you have a sleep disorder, please discuss this with your physician.
  • Always remember that you and your doctor are partners in the quest to keep you healthy and active for years to come. Find a doctor who is proactive and with whom you are completely comfortable. He or she should be instrumental in helping guide you throughout your life.

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Heart Healthful Holiday Tips

The holidays can be a wonderful and carefree time, filled with festive parties, dinners, and family celebrations. Our guards are dropped and we often succumb to the temptation to overdo, over-indulge, and over eat. Here are a few friendly reminders – dos and don’ts – that can help you thoroughly enjoy yourself without awakening on January 2nd sporting an expanded waistline, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar.

Eat Wisely:

  • Employ portion control; enjoy small portions of a few of your favorite dishes.
  • Replace: heavy cream, chocolate chips, processed sugar & butter in baked goods and side dishes with: skim milk, low-fat cream, natural sugar substitutes like Stevia, and low-cholesterol, vegetable oil-based butter alternatives such as Smart Balance.
  • Replace high fat libations like eggnog and heavy cream in your coffee with skim or low-fat milk, and avoid excessive alcohol.
  • If you’re at a holiday cocktail party, alternate your favorite cocktail or glass of wine with a glass of water – your head, heart, liver, waistline (and probably pride) will be grateful.
  • Socialize and enjoy the camaraderie. Replace a mouthful of food or drink with lively conversation.
  • Read those food labels – choose low calorie, low-fat, low-sugar and low-salt alternatives to traditional foods – you’ll lower your caloric intakes and potentially keep your blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol levels at normal levels. Holiday drinks and mixers like cranberry juice and apple cider come in natural, low sugar versions that often taste just as good as their sugar-laden brethren.
  • Eat your greens – a fresh salad and healthful vegetables can aid your digestion and replace some of the high-calorie, high-fat foods that will surely confront you at a holiday dinner.
  • Stay off the gravy train. Slathering gravy over your entire plate of turkey and dressing will add excess fat, sodium, and calories to your meal. Keep your gravy portion to a tablespoon or two.
  • Eat a bite of dessert, or share that slice of pie with a loved one, instead stuffing yourself with large servings of your favorite sweets. Again, your body will thank you.

Stay Active:

  • Moderate exercise is a great way to burn off some of those holiday calories (and pounds). Take a brisk walk with your loved ones, sweep a little snow off the walk, or shoot a few baskets with the kids. It will work wonders on your heart and soul.

Happy holidays!

Additional source: American Heart Association

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