Despite my best intentions, I have been unable to write the next segment on the issue of health in 2011. But here goes..
By now, we know that health is not merely the absence of disease. We’ve also taken stock of our current condition and situations. We may have resolved to go through some of the recommended screening examinations and lastly, we may know our numbers for certain parameters by which health is traditionally measured. Now that we may have those in hand, what next?
The next step is to become familiar with goals for these numbers. Here they are, in the same order as the earlier post:
- Blood pressure: The ideal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. What is blood pressure anyway? The two numbers that make up this reading are called “systolic” and “diastolic” blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure represents the pressure or force against the arteries when the heart is contracting; diastolic blood pressure is the force against the arterial walls between heart contractions. Nearly 80 million Americans have high blood pressure. Because there are no symptoms warning us that our blood pressure may be high, we may walk around untreated for several years. And that is a problem – over time, high blood pressure damages pretty much every organ system in our bodies and puts us at high risk for heart attacks and strokes. Treatment of high blood pressure with lifestyle changes and medications has been shown to prevent such calamities.
- Cholesterol: Cholesterol is the fatty, wax-like substance that sticks to the artery walls and “clogs” up our plumbing system – of the heart, the brain, the digestive system, legs, and like high blood pressure, damage every organ eventually. Cholesterol is produced by the liver but also makes its way into our systems via the food we eat. This is where diet comes in, and we will examine dietary issues in depth later. Goals for the various cholesterol numbers are: total cholesterol less than 150 mg/dL, LDL (bad) cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL, HDL (good) cholesterol more than 45 mg/dL and triglycerides (bad) less than 150 mg/dL.
- Body Mass Index: It goes without saying that we are in the midst of the obesity epidemic. While most of think of malnutrition as a condition that afflicts impoverished kids in third-world countries, it must be remembered that overweight/obesity is also a form of malnutrition. When there is an excess of fat within the abdominal cavity around the organs, there is the potential for developing Metabolic Syndrome. This is a result of insulin resistance, which means that although the pancreas is producing insulin, the insulin cannot get to the organs because of the fat barrier. As the insulin builds up, people with this syndrome become diabetic. Because of the conglomeration of effects from the insulin and blood sugar, as well as the overall obesity, blood pressure and blood cholesterol rise (particularly triglycerides), creating the “perfect storm” for heart attacks, strokes, vascular disease, etc. The ideal body mass index is less than 25. In South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, etc), the ideal body mass index is less than 23.
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: (or triple A as it is called) is a dangerous condition where the aorta, the main blood vessel coming off the heart becomes enlarged, usually as a result of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other common risk factors. The concern here is the potential for rupture (which is often fatal). Sadly, more often than not, there are no signs or symptoms that can pinpoint to this condition other than sudden collapse or death. Hence, getting checked for it is recommended, particularly in men at age 65.
- Diabetes: Diabetes is probably the worst disease one can have – a silent killer that attacks every cell and causes cunning havoc while seemingly nothing looks/feels different about the person harboring it. In fact, diabetes is such a strong risk factor for heart disease that it is considered a coronary artery disease equivalent. This means that diabetics are treated as if they already have heart disease, even before a diagnosis of the latter is made. Because, like high blood pressure, this condition causes no outward symptoms, diagnosis is often made incidentally by which time much damage is already done. Hence, getting regular check-ups for diabetes is essential, particularly in those that have a family history, are 45 years of age or older, are obese, have had diabetes during pregnancy or a history of heart or vascular disease or other risks for heart disease. Fasting blood sugar levels between 100-125 mg/dL indicate pre-diabetes (which means there is a high risk of developing it) and levels of higher than 126 mg/dL indicate diabetes.
- Stress: While stress may be inevitable, the way we deal with it makes all the difference. Stress usually results from (a) overload – being pulled in multiple directions, with pressure to perform on various levels and in various roles, (b) life-altering situations – a new job, losing a job, marriage, divorce, new baby, death, accidents, etc that make us think we have no control, (c) biology – being “wired” in a certain way; classically the “type A”, “high need”, resentful, regretful, hostile and angry personalities. Of course, there may be other causes of stress, but they can usually be fit into one of these three bins. Ideally, there should be no stress! Easy to say, hard to do. We will examine ways to reduce stress in these writings.
- Dissatisfaction: Dissatisfaction results from the impulsive desire to be somewhere else at any given time. And this arises most often from comparison with others – real or imagined. In this mode, we can always look better, weigh less (or more), be smarter, have more money, have more fame, better job, better home, better car, better spouse and better children. Being able to love what we already have and experience contentment seems to be a lost art. Regaining this sense of being complete in any situation brings about harmony within and without.
- Anxiety/low level depression: Anxiety and sadness always arises from remembrance of past events or imagined future events, never in the present moment. To be able to free ourselves of this nagging voice is worth the effort. With a dedicated plan and consistent effort, these can be overcome to a large extent.
- Sleep disturbances: Ideally, we must follow a regular sleep schedule, with adequate sleep hygeine. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time daily, being refreshed upon waking up, with no periods of waking up, or tossing and turning at night. While it is generally recommended that adults get about 8 hours of sleep daily, many can manage just fine with about 6-7 hours. Sleep disturbances can lead to many serious problems and must be checked out by a physician.
- Food, alcohol, tobacco and other addictions: Clearly addiction to anything can pose a problem to our overall health and well-being. As we move further along in this series, we will examine the why’s and how’s and what-to-do’s of addictions.
Tip #2: Know your goals for radiant health