This is my first blog, and all the election-year campaigning has inspired
me to begin this post with my own platform. It is constructed from both
my personal experiences and those of the multitudes who have shuffled
through the doors of my clinic over the last decade. The best professional
advice I can give to you can be expressed in a single word: moderation.
Too much or too little of anything is usually detrimental, and the same
is true in the average lifestyle. Striking a balance is the key to almost
everything we do. It was Aristotle who first theorized that extremes of
both depravation and excess lead to the downfall of morality. The only
exception, he claimed, is virtue, which no one can have enough of. And
it was Oscar Wilde who parodied this dictum with his infamous quote, “Everything
in moderation, including moderation.” But as long as our choices
are governed by reason and it is not used as an excuse for bad behavior,
moderation is the North Star to a healthy, productive life.
We all need approximately eight hours of sleep (although my teenage sons
definitely apply this as the law of averages – they will get four
some nights but 14 others). While I was in residency, there were no laws
governing the number of hours an intern could work. Shortly after I graduated,
an 80 hour maximum work week was instituted because studies showed that
the total sleep deprivation experienced by docs-in-training caused them
to function like they had a permanent two-beer buzz (I wonder how much
money was spent on THAT study??). Depriving people of sleep is actually
used as a means of torture. There is a multi-billion dollar drug industry
built around helping people get the appropriate amount of sleep. Ask anybody
with insomnia what single thing they would change about themselves given
the chance, and they will uniformly say they’d like to be able to
sleep. Conversely, too much sleep can make you even more listless and
less productive. Sleeping excessively is a sign of both mental and physical
disease. While every person’s sleep needs are different, if one
is suddenly derailed from his or her regular sleep pattern, the consequences
can interfere with every other aspect of life.
Eating may pose the biggest challenge to this philosophy. Ice cream is
so goooood! And who can forgo the college buddy’s challenge to take
on the “Old 96er” at the local steak house or pass up a “Hot,
Fresh, Now” sign? It’s like we become moths drawn to a headlamp.
And these occasional digressions from sensible eating are ok – as
long as they are OCCASIONAL. Try to eat something green several times
a day. Have realistic portions. Don’t eat too close to bedtime.
These are all highly underestimated, simple ways to greatly improve your
health. Too often we indulge in heavy, calorie-laden meals and then begin
the inevitable crash, only to try and compensate by grabbing a caffeine
and sugar-filled energy drink in an attempt to get through the rest of
the day. It’s the food equivalent of alternately sprinting and crawling
our way through a marathon. If we could only find a steady pace, eating
balanced meals and moving more, we could get to each day’s finish
line with less effort and more success. We all fall off the proverbial
wagon. I personally am especially prone when Southern Soul posts their
specials on my Instagram feed or my kids sound the cry for Sweet Mama’s
pork pops before school. But as long as I compensate for those indiscretions
with lots of colors on my plate the rest of the day (and by “colors,”
I mean veggies, not sprinkles) then balance is restored in the universe.
The last leg of the health trifecta is exercise. Depending on what study
you read, the optimum amount of exercise varies, but they all agree that
we should MOVE more. The definition of “exercise” varies greatly
for each person (my wife counts vacuuming as part of her work out regimen),
and it does not have to involve complicated machinery, heavy dumb bells
or a singlet. Exercise helps us maintain good metabolism, decrease blood
pressure, increase our bone density and build muscle. One of the best
benefits of exercise is the ability to put the world on hold for just
a little while and relieve some of the stress that builds up in a regular
day. The mental benefits are equally as important as the physical ones.
Whether it’s a group fitness class, a rec league team or taking
your dog for a walk, finding an activity that enables you to work the
major muscles in your body will improve both quality and, likely, the
quantity of your years. Just don’t stop for a beer and chili dog
every time you hit the greens.
This is common sense stuff that is not practiced as commonly as it should
be. Even health care providers, who have no excuse for not knowing better,
fail to practice what they preach about moderation. Hopefully, in this
election year full of comb-overs, Sanderisms and political debates that
resemble a cross between The Real Housewives of Orange County and a circus
sideshow, America can find its own bit of moderation.