Start with exercise; other healthy habits will follow

01/06/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

You’re in an exam room, wearing a blue paper robe, as the doctor checks your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and weight. Afterward, he reaches into his pocket, takes out five oversized pills and places them on the counter. Something is written on each one: 1. Begin exercising regularly; 2. Continue to not smoke; 3. Eat a healthy diet; 4. If you drink alcohol, do so moderately; and 5. Maintain a healthy weight.

“You need all of these,” he says, “but it’s hard to swallow five at once. So today you’re taking just one. Guess which is the best to start with?”

If you guessed “begin exercising regularly,” you’re right. When you start to improve your health with physical activity and stick with it, other health-boosting habits naturally follow.

1. Start a walking program (get a buddy and a pedometer). Aim for 10,000 steps a day. As you get stronger, insert stretches of intense walking so that you break a sweat and your respiration rate goes up.

2. That’ll make it easier to stay off cigarettes. (People who exercise are 55 percent more likely to quit smoking successfully.)

3. Expending all that energy makes your body crave nutritious fuel. You’ll banish the Five Food Felons (they make you sluggish).

4. And you’ll start drinking less. Alcohol dehydrates and interferes with large muscle control (hard to keep walking).

5. All of that helps shed excess pounds. Your reward? You’ll cut your risk for dementia by 60 percent and for diabetes and heart attack by 70 percent.

Nutrition for future dads

Maggie Simpson has an IQ of 158 (that’s in the genius range), even though year after year her growth seems as stunted as her vocabulary. Clearly, her mental powers are from Marge’s side of the family, particularly since what Dad eats before you’re conceived influences your health and development throughout life. (Since Maggie’s dad, Homer, is a beer-swilling, meat-loving, sweets-gobbling tubb-o, it may explain her developmental delays.)

But seriously, how can a man’s diet influence the health of his yet-to-be-conceived children? Genes within sperm can be turned on and off in response to environmental triggers (obesity, nutritional deficiencies, insulin resistance, chronic stress, etc.). And these altered genetic messages are passed along through sperm to an embryo at conception. After birth, they influence the metabolism of his children and may predispose the kids to a roster of diseases later in life, including diabetes and cancer.

We’re thinking men of child-bearing age should follow the recommendations that we suggest to all women who could become pregnant (since 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned). They are: Take a prenatal multivitamin daily, divided in half, and make sure you get 400 mcg of folate a day to avoid birth defects such as spina bifida, as well as plenty of omega-3 DHA (900 mg) for eye and brain development (it also increases the chances of conception). Plus, avoid red meat; trans and saturated fats; and added sugars or syrups (you hear Homer yowling?); and eat only 100 percent whole grains. Dads, it’s your turn to step up to the (nutritional) plate.

Immunization steps up again

Occasionally, there’s a news story about someone who was harmed by a vaccination, but without any scientific evidence. It always makes us think of the song “Here We Go Again” (recorded by Ray Charles in 1967), because every time we hear something like that we feel duty-bound to remind you that vaccines have saved millions of lives – and the benefits of every vaccine we know of that’s been approved and recommended outweigh the risks.

We thought we’d be singing that tune again when viewers of Katie Couric’s TV show “Katie” got the impression that the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine could cause life-threatening complications. But soon after that broadcast, Katie featured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s head of vaccination programs, who said that 57 million doses have been given with no serious problems. And on her website, Katie features a medical expert who states “no cause and effect relationship between the HPV vaccine and some of the serious side effects that have been reported” has been found.

Cervical cancer kills more than 4,000 North American women annually. If all 12-year-olds got the HPV vaccine, in the future around 1,300 such fatalities could be avoided each year.

So ask your doc what vaccines you’re missing, and make plans to get them. Our suggestions: A flu shot every year; if you’re 50 or older, boosters for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and the shingles vaccine. (Really! We know it’s recommended for 65-plus.) Over 65? Ask about the pneumonia vaccine.

Spice up your life

Vindaloo pork, made with the world’s hottest pepper – bhut jolokia, or ghost pepper – may thrill the Food Channel’s “Heat Seekers,” Aaron Sanchez and Roger Mooking. But such super-fiery dishes scare scores of North Americans away from Indian cuisine, and that’s a shame. Spiciness is the heart of Indian cooking, not heat (though that’s there, too), and those spices deliver incredible flavors and powerful health-enhancing benefits. So, spice up your new year and ward off everything from Alzheimer’s disease to irritable bowel syndrome with this trio.

Fenugreek: This plant’s aromatic seeds are ground into soups, veggies, stews and curries. It’s been shown to help control blood glucose levels and is advocated to aid breastfeeding and lower lousy LDL cholesterol.

Cumin: Often used to quell gassiness, it’s most potent as black cumin seed oil. It’s said to be an immune system modulator and a cancer fighter. Sprinkle the ground seeds in chili, barbecue sauce and on veggies. Along with turmeric, it helps boost memory-enhancing proteins that nurture your brain’s neurons.

Turmeric: A dried root used in yellow mustard (Dr. Mike loves it in a marinade for grilled salmon), turmeric eases inflammation of osteoarthritis and ulcerative colitis (when used with conventional medications).

Curcumin – not to be confused with cumin – is the active ingredient in the turmeric root. Try 1/4 teaspoon several times a day sprinkled in food.

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