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Healthy lifestyles benefit individuals, society

As I See It

Several weeks ago I wrote a fairly dismal column about the debacle of health insurance costs and the prognosis of ongoing, unrelenting cost increases. Other than being sure that your company’s health insurance provider is pricing their product competitively, about the only thing to be done is encourage employees toward a more healthy lifestyle.

What is a healthy lifestyle? Most of us know, but many of us live like we don’t know. The Nov. 15th issue of “Bottom Line Personal” has an excellent article by Dr. Bradley J. Wilcox which summarizes the elements of a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Wilcox has studied the residents of Okinawa to learn why they live well and long. This island has more 100+-year-olds than anywhere else does. They also enjoy a substantially lower incidence of cancer and heart disease than other cultures. By following Dr. Wilcox’s prescription, we could convert Mississippi into the longevity capital of the U.S. Well, we could at least improve our chances of reaching oldsterhood.

To live a really long time, we need to curb our Type A personalities and become more accepting. Okinawans believe that life’s travails will work themselves out. Stress causes the body to secrete hormones that damage the heart and blood vessels and accelerates bone loss. Get in control of yourself and don’t take on more than you can do.

Lower caloric intake improves health. Okinawans consume an average of 1,900 calories a day, compared with 2,500 for Americans. Studies have shown that animals given a diet with 40% fewer calories than the diets of free-feeding animals live about 50% longer.

Less meat and more plant-based foods improve health. The acclaimed Okinawans dine mostly on sweet potatoes, soy-based foods, grains, fruits and vegetables. This is supplemented by a small amount of fish and, occasionally, lean pork. A plant-based diet is high in fiber, which lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of diabetes, breast cancer and heart disease.

The traditional Okinawan diet is low in fat and processed foods, as well as calories. Obesity is rare in the culture. Avoiding obesity reduces the risk of weight-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Only a recluse could fail to understand that smoking increases health risks. Unfortunately, as long as smoking is considered “cool” for young people in America, our kids will continue to get hooked. Sad, but true.

Here comes that ugly word — exercise. Yes, it’s true. People are healthiest when they combine aerobic, strengthening and flexibility exercises into their routine. Until exercise becomes a conscious choice, we are likely to keep avoiding it like the plague.

Social interaction helps. Slowing our lives down to allow time for maintaining a social network can extend our lives. In the language of today, we need to “hang out” more with friends and family. I fear that the modern emphasis on business and career networking has driven us to spend too much of our “socializing” time with people we really don’t like. In addition to the necessary networking, we need to set aside time for those we do care about.

It will probably not come as a surprise that people who have spiritual or religious beliefs live longer than those who don’t. I fail to understand how anyone totally lacking in spirituality finds meaning in life. However, some profess to do so.

The New Year is right around the corner, so this is a good time to think about making some lasting changes in our style of living. Living longer and healthier accomplishes two ends: it lowers our health care costs and frustrates Social Security — both being laudable goals.

Thought for the Moment — A hero acts nobly of his own free will, either in opposition to or beyond what is expected of him. To be your own hero, seek out your inner strengths and use them creatively.

— educator Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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