Chapter 7. Physical Health
I am not a doctor or medical professional. I am not an expert on how to live a healthy lifestyle. I have opinions and beliefs about how to be healthy. In this chapter, I share the ideas that interest me most.
It’s possible that I have misconceptions. I hope that if I say something wrong, someone will notify me and correct me. I am happy to update the book for accuracy.
I want to live a healthy lifestyle and I want to help others be healthy too.
This chapter is brief. What else should I include in it? If you have a great idea for a section, please contact me.
There are many misconceptions about health
There are many misconceptions about health. It’s a complicated topic. There are lots of unintuitive details. For example, I went a long time imagining that lungs were hollow (like a pair of two large balloons) before I learned that lungs are actually pretty solid (like a pair of sponges made out of many tiny balloons).
There is a lot of misleading information out there, so it helps to be skeptical. Misleading information can even be intentional. For example, the labeling on a product might lead you to believe that it is healthier than it really is.
You are only as healthy as the weakest vital link in your health
You might have the healthiest heart and lungs on the planet. But if you have a life-threatening problem somewhere else in your body — in your pancreas, liver, kidney, stomach, colon, etc — it doesn’t matter that your heart and lungs are in great condition. So if you want to live to be really old, you need all of your vital organs to be able to last a long time. Your doctor can help you keep track of the healthiness of many different parts of your body.
Why diet and exercise are important
There are many reasons why eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight are helpful. Some of those reasons are well known, but others are “hidden benefits”.
Good diet and exercise can help decrease the risk of a heart attack, Type II Diabetes, stroke, some types of cancer, and depression. It can give you more energy and strength. It can help you get enough sleep at night. It can also improve your confidence, motivation, and self-esteem.
Make exercise fun
You might find exercise to be boring or stressful at first. I’m much more motivated to work out if it is fun. Some fun physical activities I enjoy are hiking, dancing, and playing sports. I like fitness classes because I like to be around people. I haven’t tried it yet myself, but spinning classes on a stationary bike are very popular now.
Your motivation to exercise might be to improve your long term health or to be more physically attractive. With both of these goals, you don’t see the resulting improvements immediately. This makes it hard to stay focused.
Workout videos at home can be great
My roommate lets me use his workout video DVD at our house. I really like it because I can use it to work out at home, which is much less time consuming than going to a gym. I learned many new exercises by watching it. It’s also motivates me to work out harder than if I was at home without the video.
Some people eat to live, other people live to eat
There is a whole field of dietary psychology that I’m just starting to learn about. It is very interesting. How you think about food affects which foods you eat and how much. For example, if you think of food as being desirable because of the nutrients and resources it gives your body, you might eat healthier. On the other hand, if you think of food as being desirable because it is pleasurable, you might eat less healthy.
It’s fun to eat food, especially if the food has a delicious flavor. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to get fat. Especially now when we have access to delicious food.
Learn to identify healthy and unhealthy foods
Everybody knows that some foods are healthier than others. My feeling is that people are bad at identifying how healthy a meal is. This makes it harder to eat a healthy diet.
Imagine you are at a restaurant or a grocery store. You have many options for food to choose from. Which do you choose and why? When I go out to eat with people who tell me they are trying to lose weight, they sometimes fail to pick a meal that is delicious and healthy. To make a good decision, you have to know a lot about the menu.
What makes a meal healthy? To me, healthiness has to do with the calories, vitamins and minerals, portion size, and understanding the ingredients. Understand how these things compare between different options.
Good cooking skills can lead to healthier eating
Unfortunately, unhealthy food can be very cheap and fast. Eating healthy is easier if you know how to cook a few different meals that are quick, cheap, and healthy.
Signals from your brain influence how hungry you are and what you’re hungry for. So if you typically eat large amounts of junk food, your brain could cause you to crave junk food.
People tend to think of dieting as a battle between their self-control and their hunger. But if you only focus on improving your willpower and self-control, the hunger and food cravings can win. Instead, you should also think about improving what your body craves and hungers for.
To eat healthy you have to train your brain over time to want healthier food. Like anything else, the more you practice eating healthy, the easier it gets.
The Diet Coke study
Diet soda is marketed as being less fattening and better for you than regular soda (because it contains less sugar and calories). But one outcome from the San Antonio Heart Study suggests that the people who drank Diet Coke gained more weight than the people who drank regular Coke.
That finding is counter-intuitive. Diet Coke was supposed to help people lose weight, not cause them to gain more. How can this be? We don’t know enough to be certain. One hypothesis proposed was that the diet soda caused people to eat more food, as if the artificial sweeteners tricked the brain and body into wanting more calories.
Does this study prove that diet soda is more fattening or less healthy than regular soda? Not really. We can’t be sure yet. We need more studies and research before we can be conclusive. I like this story because it shows that results can be counter-intuitive and that we still have a lot to study.
Your social network affects how healthy you are
New studies suggest your health might be influenced by your social network. This intuitively makes sense. The people around you influence your diet, exercise, and lifestyle decisions.
Imagine that your friends, family, and co-workers all eat very healthy and get lots of exercise. You’d probably eat healthier and get more exercise too. But now imagine that everyone around you eats a lot of unhealthy food and live a very sedentary lifestyle. It would be harder to eat well and get exercise in that scenario.
Too much stress can hurt your muscles
Being under a lot of stress or being angry can cause you to involuntarily tense some of your muscles. This puts additional strain on those muscles. In bad cases, this can lead to muscle soreness or pain.
Admittedly, I’m not very knowledgeable about this topic but I thought it was interesting. I’ve noticed that some of my muscles are sore if I am experiencing a period of intense stress.
Using a “vertical” computer mouse seemed to hurt my wrist
A vertical computer mouse is a type of computer mouse that you can buy now. A traditional computer mouse you hold with your palm towards the desk surface. A vertical mouse is designed so that you hold it with your palm vertical, facing the center. Imagine you are shaking hands.
This type of mouse is advertised as being better for your health and reducing the risk of carpal tunnel. But in my experience, after using it for a long time, it was very stressful to the muscles in my wrist. Eventually it was painful to use.
Why did something designed to be better for wrist health end up hurting me? The vertical mouse is only beneficial if you also completely change which muscles you use to control the mouse. If you continue to use your wrist, like I did, it seems to be worse than a regular mouse. Supposedly you can use your shoulder and arm muscles instead of your wrist muscles. But this is very difficult to learn how to do.
This is just my experience. I’d be curious to hear if other people have had this problem when using a vertical mouse for an extended amount of time.
Going to the doctor can be scary, confusing
Some people put off or avoid going to the doctor. Why would someone not go to the doctor when they should? Maybe they are worried about what the treatment will cost. Maybe they think the problem will go away on its own.
Health insurance is very confusing
Obtaining and using health insurance can be very confusing. For example, you might feel like you are paying too much for your health insurance. Or you might not know the cost of treatment while using health insurance to help you pay for it. I know I have trouble learning and remembering all the important facts and terminology related to my health insurance.
Vaccines do not cause autism
As far as I know, there is currently no scientific evidence to suggest that vaccinating a child can cause autism. Instead, autism risk is thought to be increased by certain genes and certain conditions during the child’s development in the womb.
Some number of parents are trying to prevent autism by choosing not to vaccinate against diseases such as measles and rubella. This is bad because it can cause the child to get sick and die from those diseases. It can also put everyone at risk, including those that have been vaccinated. When one unvaccinated person is infected with the virus, the virus has a chance to mutate into a new form. This new form might be able to cause problems for people who have been vaccinated against the original virus.
In the year 2014, over 32,000 people were killed in motor-vehicle accidents in the United States (according to the Department of Transportation). Also, one of my family members was hospitalized because of a car accident. To try to help make the roads safer, I’ve written some safe driving tips.
- Cell phones cause you take your eyes off the road, which is dangerous if the car in front of you stops unexpectedly
- Thinking too much can be a distraction! I got a speeding ticket because I was thinking about something rather than paying attention to my speed
- Obviously, don’t drive while your brain is impaired by recent alcohol consumption
- Also, don’t drive if your brain is impaired by being too tired
- Give other drivers enough time and distance to react to your turns, stops, and lane changes
- Always use your turn signal, even if you don’t think you need it, so that cars around you can react to you
- Use your turn signal ahead of time to signal your desire to change lanes, not just when you are actually changing lanes
- Be aware of your blind-spots and the blind-spots of others
- Truck drivers have a blind spot along their right side, so don’t pass them on the right because they might not see you. (A friend of mine didn’t know this… almost got hit by a truck)
- Be very careful if you are riding a motorcycle. They can be very dangerous.
The Future of Health
We will continue to learn about our bodies and our health. We will research new strategies for treating and preventing illnesses. We will also continue to increase awareness so that people are better informed.
We will also always be encountering new risks and dangers to our health: new viruses, new ways to get hurt, new unhealthy activities, etc. But I expect our overall health will improve as time goes on. It’ll be really cool to see what advancements are made next.