Renowned preventive cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD, has devoted decades to helping Americans improve their health by trimming their waistlines and exercising regularly. Now, in an important new book, The South Beach Wake-Up Call, he warns that we're raising a generation that could be the first in modern history with shorter life spans than their parents'. Here, his urgent call to action:
America is fatter and sicker than ever. We compensate by taking diet pills and going on fad diets. But the fact is that our fast-food, sedentary lifestyle is trumping the advances in medical science that have been responsible for at least four decades of decreasing death rates from heart disease. The hard truth is that whatever shape health care reform ultimately takesÃ¢â‚¬”one payer, multiple payer, or a combination of coveragesÃ¢â‚¬”it won't matter, because we as a nation won't be able to pay for it. If we don't make the positive lifestyle changes needed to halt and reverse the obesity epidemic nowÃ¢â‚¬”todayÃ¢â‚¬”our health care system will be bankrupted by the sheer numbers of sick Americans.
It's now absolutely clear that a healthy lifestyleÃ¢â‚¬”eating a proper diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting plenty of exercise and a good night's sleepÃ¢â‚¬”is the surest, safest way to prevent the downward spiral of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So let's do it. I don't expect you to be "perfect." As my mom used to tell me, "Perfection is paralysis." Just start making healthier choices most of the time.
1. Make a little go a long way.
I'm a chocoholic who enjoys a decadent dessert. When you're confronted with one that looks too good to pass up, invoke the Three-Bite Rule. Allow yourself three bites, eating them as slowly as possible so you can savor each wonderful mouthful. Then pass your plate to a fellow diner. You'll soon see that enjoying just three bites of an indulgent dessert can be very pleasurable and that your sweet tooth is satisfied with just a small portion.
2. Counter the cocktails.
What you drink in a restaurant is as important as what you eat. If you start having cocktails before you even order, the alcohol may go to your head and sabotage your willpower when it comes to making healthy menu choices. It's better to wait and enjoy a drink with your meal. Choose red wine with dinner over cocktails with sugary mixers; the antioxidants in the wine are good for you.
3. Eat better for less.
In many cases, we've been given a false choice between promoting our health and saving money. The reality is, when you stop buying junk and purchase only nutrient-rich, high-quality food, you'll be surprised by how far you can stretch your grocery dollars.
The first rule for buying produce at a good price is to buy it fresh and in season. Berries can be dirt cheap in the summer and priced through the roof in the winter.
You can also save by joining a local food co-op. Co-ops aren't in business to make money for themselves; they're in business to save money for their members.
Buy frozen veggies and fruits. They're a terrific, convenient, price-conscious alternative when fresh local produce isn't in season. Most companies use a technique called flash freezing, in which produce is frozen immediately after it is picked to preserve flavor and nutrients.
Dried legumes, like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, not only provide high-quality protein but are also a good buy, especially when purchased in bulk. In addition to food co-ops, natural-food stores often offer the best bargains.
If you're fortunate enough to live near a reputable fish market with good prices, by all means become a regular customer. But if not, canned and frozen fish are fine alternatives. As with frozen fruits and vegetables, new flash-freezing techniques enable fishermen to freeze seafood within minutes of catching it, locking in both flavor and nutrients.
4. Tame sugar shock.
If you follow the typical toxic American diet, you're consuming thirty-five teaspoons of added sugar in your food every day. To get an idea of just how much sugar that is, carefully measure thirty-five teaspoons of granulated sugar into a bowl. Then imagine eating all of it. I bet most of you are horrified at the thought, and frankly, so am I. If you eat processed foods regularly, that's how much you get in added sugars aloneÃ¢â‚¬”in addition to all the other naturally occurring sugar in foods like fruits, vegetables, milk, and whole grains.
To reduce this toxic burdenÃ¢â‚¬”a total of 132 pounds of sugar a year for every man, woman, and child in the United StatesÃ¢â‚¬”start reading labels. You'll find sugar comes under a variety of guises such as corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, honey, dextrose, fructose, maltodextrin, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, sucrose, and rice syrup, just to name a few.
5. Get some sleep!
Many maladies associated with our toxic lifestyle can be initiated or aggravated by the failure to get enough sleep. On the flip side, many of these health problems could probably be significantly reduced, if not averted in the first place, if we just got more shut-eye. If your problem is a partner who snores, try these simple measures:
Eliminate alcohol at night. Alcohol can aggravate snoring by relaxing the muscles in the airways, which makes breathing harder.
Try a nasal strip. A stuffed nose or clogged nasal passages can make snoring worse by causing the snorer to breathe through his mouth. A nasal strip worn on the bridge of the nose can open nasal passages, reducing mouth breathing.
Buy a humidifier. Dry heat can trigger snoring. A humidifier can help keep the room moist and therefore prevent the mouth and nose from drying out.
Lose even a few pounds. It can help reduce snoring and also decrease or, in some cases, resolve sleep apnea.
6. Stand up for health!
Exercise is about as close to being a panacea as anything in the medical arsenal. Yet we're falling woefully short. Not long ago, the Christian Science Monitor reported that in some South Florida schools, walking to the cafeteria counted toward fulfilling the exercise requirement!
Any physical activity is good. But when it comes to getting moving, I've long been a fan of dog walking. A 2011 study found that dog owners were 34% more likely to get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week than nonowners. Nearly half of the roughly 2,400 dog owners in the study reported that they exercise thirty minutes a day for at least five days a week; among the nonowners, only about a third exercised that consistently. In another study from the University of West Virginia, teens were more active if their families owned a dog than similar adolescents whose families didn't.
Exercise even helps combat the oxidative stress that's created by eating fast food. Research shows that people who exercise regularly and eat a fast-food meal have more pliant blood vessels than the couch potatoes who consume the same bad meal.
Adapted from The South Beach Wake-Up Call: Why America Is Still Getting Fatter and Sicker ...Plus 7 Simple Strategies for Reversing Our Toxic Lifestyle, by Arthur Agatston, MD (Rodale)